06.24.09

The Drink Hemingway Made Famous

Exactly a century ago, an obscure Cuban cocktail named the daiquiri emigrated to America. While Papa loved the Havana version, Nigella Lawson and others remix the classic for a new generation of summer drinkers.

Ernest Hemingway, it seems universally agreed, would have likely done a shot of Scope if that’s all that was available. But when visiting a dark bar off Havana’s Parque Central called El Floridita, he stumbled upon a drink called the daiquiri and forever changed the way that summer tastes.

Just try to say the word “daiquiri” and frown. Try it. Can't do it, right? It's simply not possible to be cranky when you are talking about making or drinking a daiquiri. A daiquiri is like a little vacation in a glass, and sometimes a little vacation in a glass with a teeny tiny beach umbrella.

To address the whole gestalt of the ultimate daiquiri, we need to come at this from two angles. (Don't worry; this will be short and painless. No one likes too much history with their alcohol.) First, the authentic daiquiri, historically correct and whatnot, and then the popularized American (or tropical) version of the daiquiri, which can be served straight up, on the rocks, or (most often) frozen, at which point the umbrella transitions from optional to mandatory.

The Original Daiquiri:

The most popular story is that the daiquiri was invented in the early 20th century in a bar in Santiago, Cuba, by a group of American mining engineers. When Jennings Cox received a visit from a colleague, the only ingredients he had in his storeroom for an afternoon cocktail were rum, lemons, and sugar. The daiquiri, named after a nearby village, was served in a tall glass packed with cracked ice. A bit of sugar was added, and then fresh lime (or lemon—there's contention on this point) juice was squeezed over the sugar, and a few ounces of rum poured in. Then it was simply stirred vigorously. Later, the cocktail shaker became part of the equation.

The Army-Navy Club in Washington, D.C., introduced the daiquiri to America in 1909, and the drink became incredibly popular in the 1940s, as rum hit its stride. For our purposes, it is safe to say that if you order a daiquiri in a drinking establishment where the bartender prefers to be called a mixologist, you will get the aforementioned drink. If you are in an establishment where the bartender prefers to be called Al or Mandy, you will get…

The Frozen Daiquiri:

Bring out the blender. Yeah, there's still rum, sugar, lime (or something citrusy), and ice, but now it's all blended together in a gorgeous slushy way, often served in a festively shaped glass—and it doesn't have to end there. Strawberries! Bananas! Pomegranate! Purists may turn up their noses at these frothy concoctions, so thick a straw can stand up in the drink all by its lonesome. But you don't have to invite the purists to your pool party.

The choice is yours. Here are three ultimate ways to drink them down.

The El Floridita Daiquiri:

This is the daiquiri heard around the world.

This cocktail was made famous by bartender Constantino Ribalaigua Vert, or “El Grande Constante,” as he was known at the el Flordita. The unique mixing time and specific proportions lends a distinctive taste to the el Flordita cocktail, Hemingway’s favorite.

Here’s the recipe.

Daiquiri by Sharon Tyler Herbst:

A very classic version, with many crazy variations

Using slightly different proportions, Sharon Tyler Herbst prepares a very classic version, with a simple recipe and straightforward instructions. However, she also includes a number of variations on the theme: recipes for apple, banana, cherry and derby (to which you add 1 oz .of fresh orange juice to the original recipe and garnish with an orange slice) daiquiris. These variations incorporate the use of flavored liquors, fresh fruit and brandy.

Here’s the recipe.

Watermelon Daiquiri by Nigella Lawson:

Foamy, pink... oh, summertime cocktail hour, we love you so.

Nigella Lawson embraces the concept of the frozen daiquiri and takes on the watermelon. The watermelon must be cut into chunks and frozen ahead of time, lengthening the drink-making process, but the end results are absolutely worth it. Lawson serves this “pinkly foamy purée” drink in margarita glasses. This drink all but bellows, "Summer!"

Here’s the recipe.

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Katie Workman is editor in chief and chief marketing officer of Cookstr.com, a Web site devoted to great, tested recipes from chefs and cookbook authors. Katie is on the board of City Harvest, and actively involved in Share Our Strength. She lives in New York City with her husband her two boys, ages 6 and 9.