July 19th is National Daiquiri Day! From frozen and fluorescent-colored, to sticky and sweet, the Daiquiri has morphed into on many forms — and not always for the better — since its introduction during the waning years of the 19th century. So grab your shaker and raise a glass to the History of the Daiquiri cocktail!
A History of the Daiquiri Cocktail
What is a Daiquiri?
The Daiquiri is a very simple but elegant cocktail made with rum, fresh lime juice, and sugar. That’s it –Phil Greene
The Daiquiri is a member of the sour family of cocktails which also includes the World War I favorite, the Sidecar. By definition a sour is composed ofL
- A base spirit
- a sweet ingredient
- a sour ingredient
In the case of the Daiquiri, those elements are rum (traditionally white rum), lime juice and sugar.
History of the Daiquiri
Like most classic cocktails, the precise origin of the Daiquiri is a little murky, but this cocktail is more well documented than most.
This story revolves around Jennings Stockton Cox of Baltimore. Following the American Victory in the Spanish-American War, the U.S. moves in to capitalize on the rich Cuban iron mines and Cox, working for the Baltimore-based Bethlehem Steel leads one of the first expeditions into the Sierra Maestra mountains close to the town of Daiquiri (see where this going?) on the south-eastern shore. One night, while entertaining guests from the mainland, Cox runs out of Gin but thankfully, due to generous rations, he has built up quite a stash of the local Bacardi Carta Blanca rum. So as not to expose the delicate constitutions of his guests to straight rum, Cox mixes it with lime juice and sugar, thus creating the Daiquiri.
The second theory also involves Jennings Cox, but in more of a supporting role. Basil Woon, in his 1928 book, “When it’s Cocktail Time in Cuba”, article relates a story of a group of American engineers tossing back lime-based concoctions at the Venus Bar every day at 8am. After repeating this routine for a while, Cox, the supervisor eventually decides that their drink of choice deserves a name. Choosing the name of the nearby town, the Daiquiri is born.
This one, taken from Wayne Curtis’ “And a Bottle of Rum”, takes Jennings Cox out of the mix altogether and gives the credit to Spanish American War General William Schafter. According to the legend, Schafter was particularly fond of a Cuban rebel drink. Schafter added ice to it and created the Daiquiri.
Who do we believe?
Like all great cocktail stories, here’s where things start to go sideways:
Several sources state that Cox, if he was the creator, should share credit with either Harry E. Stout or another worker referred to as Pagliuchi, but the addition of lime to rum was nothing revolutionary and was well known since at least 1740 when British Vice Admiral Edward “Old Grogram” Vernon came up with “Grog” to fight off scurvy in British sailors. Rum, sugar and lime mixtures were also popular throughout the Caribbean at this time. Simon Difford points to the Canchanchara, 19th century blend of Cuban rum, lemon (maybe lime depending on translation), honey and water, as a possible ancestor of the Daiquiri.
What now we’re dealing with a variation on the Eddie Izzard “Do you have a flag?” theme: the native population has been doing something for ages, Westerners swoop in and “discover it”, assuming the inhabitants are too dim to know what the really have, give it a name and claim credit.
Why is the Daiquiri so popular?
“The Daiquiri, like the Old-Fashioned, deserves an even greater popularity than it now enjoys. For example, it is, in my opinion, vastly superior to the Manhattan, yet most bars sell many more Manhattans than Daiquiris.” – David Embury
Resuming our story, we now have the Daiquiri, known to be, whatever the true origin, established by the turn of the 20th century. So how did this drink go from being the day drink choice for ex-pat American engineers in Cuba to the ubiquitous drink that we know today?
Admiral Lucius Johnson
Here’s where I have to all NPR Radio Lab and discuss Rear-Admiral Lucius W. Johnson, our patient-zero for the world-wide spread of the Daiquiri. In 1909, the USS Minnesota was touring the now decade-old battlegrounds of the Spanish American War. Captain Charles H. Harlow went ashore at Guantanamo with then junior medical officer Lucius Johnson in tow. The duo soon met up with none other than Jennings Cox, who is more than happy to share his creation with them. Johnson is instantly smitten with the drink.
Returning to the United States with a stash of Cuban rum and Jenning’s recipe, Johnson soon instructed the bar staff at Washington D.C.’s Army and Navy Club on how to make his new favorite cocktail. The Daiquiri was such a hit that the bar (now named the Daiquiri Lounge) sports a plaque to honor of the moment.
— District Cocktail (@DCcocktails) March 19, 2013
After the nation’s capital, Johnson introduced the drink to the University Club in Baltimore, Maryland. Gladly accepting the recipe, but not willing to leave well enough alone (we never do), the bartender insisted on adding bitters to the list of ingredients. His next posting was San Francisco, where the Daiquiri wasn’t a hit and failed to achieve any popularity. Following that bump in the road the Daiquiri’s tour continued into Honolulu and Guam.
Flash forward a few years and we come to Constante Ribalaigua Vert, “El Rey de los Coteleros” (King of the Cocktails) in Cuba. In his 40 year reign as head bartender and co-owner of the La Floridita bar, it is said that he personally squeezed 80 million limes for 10 more than million Daiquiris. It was Ribalaigua who introduced Hemingway to the Daiquiri when the author began to frequent La Floridita in the 1930s. Hemingway and the Daiquiri become forever linked and in 1937, the bar publishes a Hemingway Daiquiri —printed as the E. Henmiway Special — in their cocktail book. In 1947, the proportions of the Hemingway Daquiri double and becomes known as the Papa Doble.
In addition to a number of variant Daiquiri recipes, Ribalaigua’s other claim to fame is the perfection of the frozen Daiquiri, which is not to be confused with the Slurpee-machine nonesense you encounter at T.J. McChucklenuts and on Bourbon Street.
Jennings Cox Daiquiri
- The Juice of six lemons
- Six Teaspoons full of sugar
- Six Bacardi cups – Carta Blanca
- Two small cups of mineral water
- Plenty of crushed ice
Embury’s 8:2:1 formula
U.K. bar legend Dick Bradsell was a huge fan of this recipe and his protege Simon Difford still swears by this ratio for creating aged rum Daiquiris. Embury swapped out the usual sugar for simple syrup, which creatds a less gritty mix.
- 2 shots Cuban Rum
- ½ shot lime juice
- ¼ shot simple syrup
Proposes that Cox’s original Daiquiri may have been served on the rocks, prefers it this way
1935 – Albert S. Crockett concurs in the “Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book”:
“Personal preference dictates serving the cocktail with finely shaved ice in a glass.”
- 1 oz Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva
- 1/2 oz simple syrup
- 1/2 oz fresh lime juice
Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into daiquiri or cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.
- Curtis, Wayne. And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails. New York: Crown, 2006.
- DeGroff, Dale, and David Kressler. The Essential Cocktail: The Art of Mixing Perfect Drinks: Classic Favorites, New Ingredients, Modern Techniques. New York: Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 2008.
- Difford, Simon. Difford’s Encyclopedia of Cocktails: 2600 Recipes. Richmond Hill, Ont.: Firefly, 2009.
- “The District’s Claim to the Daiquiri.” Boundary Stones: WETA’s Washington DC History Blog.
- Embury, David A. The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1958.
- Greene, Philip. To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion.
- Hess, Robert. Essential Bartender’s Guide: How to Create Truly Great Cocktails. New York: Mud Puddle, 2008.