Monday, 15 August 2011

My Favourite Daiquiris

Ask your bartender for his favourite cocktail and I'd wager that at least half the responses would be "Daiquiri, straight up". The Martini may be more evocative, the Manhattan more sophisticated, but no drink is so beloved behind the bar as the Daiquiri, the peasant prince of rum cocktails. There are good reasons for this widespread celebration: rum and lime form one of the most congenial matches ever formulated, a well-made version is simultaneously refreshing and complex, and, perhaps most importantly for a tired bartender, you can make it in about 25 seconds.
There are essentially three classes of daiquiri, divided not by form but by quality: one is the frosted, syrup-infused rum slushy that has multiplied like a virus throughout the family restaurants and dive-bars of America. These we'll ignore. The second category consists of respectable rum sours, served in any way, into which I'd place juice-heavy straight-up versions or well-made fresh fruit Daiquiris. The final, and my preferred, category contains the serious, rum-focused cocktails that descend from Embury's 8-2-1 Daiquiri from 1948. The abiding principle uniting this disparate class is that the modifiers, the citrus and the sweetener, should not be equal co-partners in the drink but instead exist to temper and accentuate the qualities of good rum, much like the sugar and bitters in an Old-Fashioned. A good rule: if it's going down with easy deliciousness, then you've got a good rum and lime sour. When each stinging cold sip reveals the rich, bittersweet flavours of the rum, before imperceptibly retreating into a mouth-wetting finish of slightly sugared lime juice, then you've got yourself a true Daiquiri. And that's something to treasure.

So, how then do you tell them apart?   Here are the archetypal examples of each category.

The 'Rum Sour' Daiquiri

Daiquiri straight up

2 shots/50ml rum (Havana Club 3yr)
1 shot/25ml lime juice
1/2/12.5ml shot gomme syrup (2:1)

Shaken hard and fine strained into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish.

Plenty of lime juice, balanced with plenty of sweetness. Chilled and Now, don't get me wrong, a drink made to this recipe will be delightful, incredibly refreshing and, on a hot beach, almost always the right choice (particularly, on the rocks). But it doesn't quite capture the essence of a Daiquiri.

Here's the classic:

Embury's Daiquiri

2 shots Cuban rum (Havana Club Anejo Blanco)
1/2 shot lime juice
1/4 shot gomme syrup

This is very much the sign of a serious rum drinker. Like many of Embury's formulae, it's dry and alcoholic by modern tastes, but once you've worked up to it (and believe me, no-one really prefers it at first), it's a highly rewarding drink.

Here are my slightly more forgiving proportions for a true Daiquiri.

My 'True' Daiquiri

2.5 shots/~62.5ml rum (Havana Club 3yr)
3/4 shot/~17.5ml lime juice
1/3 shot/ gomme syrup

Shaken and fine strained into a chilled cocktail glass.

These specifications look punctilious, but, by God, do they deliver. A balance between Embury's super-dry 8-2-1 and Simon Difford's revised 10-3-2 proportions, when made to this recipe, your daiquiri should have just enough lime to accent the rum and just sugar enough to take the edge off the lime. Where the rum sour version exists for blazing, white beaches, this is the cocktail for the languorous sunset that follows, as the heat of the day dissipates and the busy sounds of the shore subside to the rocking of the waves. Where the former throws itself forth into the bounty of the day, the latter sits in easeful meditation.

There are, of course, countless cousins and variations within these families of Daiquiris; here are some of the best of each:

Rum Sours

Honey and Basil Daiquiri

2 shots aged rum (Havana Club Anejo Especial or 7yr)
3/4 shot lime juice
1/2 shot honey water
4 basil leaves

Shake and fine strain into chilled coupe. Garnish with a basil leaf.

This one blurs the boundaries between the two styles: it's very classic in concept and flavour, but the modifiers are less subordinate to the base than in a true Daiquiri. Highly drinkable and delicious, but not overtly focused on the rum.

Nuclear Daiquiri

1.5 shots Wray Nephew Overproof
1 shot lime juice
3/4 shot green chartreuse
1/4 shot Velvet Falernum

Shake and fine strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with lime and approach with caution

This one is, to an extent, 'about the rum'. However, it's not really interested in developing the nuances of a fine spirit; rather, it starts with a rock-star of a rum, half malevolence half scruffy seduction, and then goes looking for some equally disreputable and potent friends. Fiery, full-flavoured and more dangerous than poking a bear while wearing a suit made of steaks.  A heavy metal Daiquiri to Embury's jazz.

'True' Daiquiris

Floridita Daiquiri 1

2 shots white rum (1.5 Havana 3yrs, 1/2 Rhum Barbancourt)
1/2 shot lime juice
1/2 shot grapefruit juice
1/4 shot gomme
1/4-1/8 shot maraschino (Luxardo)

Shaken and fine strained into a chilled coupette. Garnish with a lime wedge.

A great drink. Individually, grapefruit and maraschino are difficult to love at firs, yet paradoxically, together they're instantly charming. This drink, or at least something very similar, was first mixed at La Floridita in Havana by Constantino Ribalaigua, one of the great masters of the Daiquiri. The use of Cuban rum is, of course, mandatory, but a little splash of rhum agricole (one of my favourite tweaks in a rum cocktail) develops the funk of the maraschino, producing if not a more harmonious, certainly a more beguiling blend.

Floridita Daiquiri 2

2 shots white rum (Havana Club 3yr)
1/2 shot lime juice
1/2 sweet vermouth (Martini & Rosso)
1/4 shot creme de cacao (Marie Brizard)
1/8 shot grenadine

Perhaps my favourite ever Daiquiri. There is a related drink, the Mulata, using only rum, cacao and lime, but this is a serious improvement. While the Mulata tastes predominately of rum with a hint of cocoa, the vermouth and a touch of grenadine add a wonderful richness to the Floridita. Like its counterpart, the second Floridita is a delicate balancing act; both feature powerful ingredients, maraschino and cacao, that, to paraphrase Ted Haigh, have to be used"like machine guns": sparingly. It's also one of the rare cocktails where theoretically better ingredients will sometimes fall flat: Mozart Dry, a great unsweetened chocolate distillate, simply doesn't quite work, and, believe me, I've tried almost every vermouth going in this drink and good ol' dependable Martini & Rosso is the best here. Definitely an evening Daiquiri, perfectly suited to slow sipping.

Hemingway Special or Papa Doble

4 shots white rum (3 shots Havana Anejo Blanco, 1 shot Trois Rivieres Blanc)
1.25 shots lime juice
1 shots grapefruit juice
1/2 shot maraschino
1/2 shot gomme (optional)

Either shake with crushed ice or blend with cubed ice, and pour unstrained into chilled coupe. Garnish with lime wedge.

Another Ribalaigua recipe in disguise, this oversized Daiquiri was created and named for Ernest Hemingway - hardened drinker, crappy author. A diabetic, he took his cocktails with as little sugar as possible. A manly sort (read The Old Man and The Sea or Death in the Afternoon, it's like being pummeled by a giant, anthropomorphic jockstrap), he also took his cocktails as doubles. Hence, Papa Doble. It's essentially a double Floridita served frozen. Most commentaries on the Hemingway will tell you to adjust the drink to include a touch of sugar and, in all fairness, this is probably correct. A Hemingway sans sugar is certainly an experience every drinker should enjoy, but no-one expects you to do it regularly. The original drink specified even less sweetness, with only 6 drops of maraschino. If you enjoy eating limes like oranges, go ahead. With a little extra sugar, however, this is superb cocktail, certainly one of the best ever frozen drinks.

Daiquiri de Jerez

1 shot white rum (Havana Club 3 yr)
1 shot golden rum (Appleton 8)
3/4 shot lime juice
1/2 shot Amontillado sherry
1/4 shot orgeat syrup
1/8 shot grenadine

Shaken and fine strained into a coupe. Garnish with a flamed orange twist.

The imaginatively named Daiquiri of Sherry, this is my own modest contribution to rum-focused Daiquiris. On paper, it looks pretty busy, but every ingredient is there to accentuate the rum. The sherry adds a nuttiness sweetness, complementing the almond syrup and the flavours of the Appleton, while the Havana Club cuts through the richness with  its own grassy freshness. I am pretty damn biased, but it is pretty damn good.

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