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Cocktails 101: The Daiquiri

Everything you need to know about this Cuban American classic

Ernest Hemingway put away 15 frozen daiquiris in one sitting, while John F. Kennedy sipped daiqs when he beat Nixon in the 1960 presidential election—at least according to legend. Today, daiquiris are the beloved beverage of cocktail aficionados and wannabe vacationers to the newly reopened Cuba. Below, every single thing you need to know about one of the most classic of classic cocktails—history, tips and techniques, recipes, and variations.

History of the Daiquiri

While most vintage drinks lack documentation proving their precise point of creation, the daiquiri's origin is backed up by an actual cocktail recipe card signed by a "Jennings Cox" in 1896.

Cox, an American engineer who lived and worked in Cuba after the Spanish-American War, is believed to have invented the daiquiri after running out of gin while throwing a cocktail party. Since rum is plentiful in the country, it proved a convenient substitute in a punch he was serving. Unlike what's stated on his recipe card, the drink was made with limessince lemons were unheard of in Cubaand brown sugar. It turned out to be a huge hit, and Cox christened it the "Daiquiri," naming the drink after a nearby port town, which also happened to be where the U.S. first invaded Cuba during the Spanish-American War.

Photo by Stan Lee

However, considering the island has a bounty of lime, sugar, and rum, it's likely that Cox was merely the first to pen the recipe of a cocktail that had already existed in Cuba. Not to mention that a prototype of the daiquiri—"grog" with lime juice, sugar, rum, and water—had been saving the British Royal Navy from scurvy for centuries before. And variations of rum-lime-sugar drinks previously populated Cuba (el draque, the precursor to the mojito, was invented by Sir Francis Drake during the 1500s) and the Caribbean (ti' punch from 1887).

But, in 1909, Cox's cocktail, which until then could only be found in Cuba, was brought to America by Admiral Lucius W. Johnson. The U.S. naval officer, who had visited Cox and fell in love with his daiquiri, introduced it to Washington, D.C.'s Army and Navy Club.

Then, four years later, as cited in prolific cocktail book author and leading rum expert Jeff "Beachbum" Berry's Potions of the Caribbean, bartender Emilio "El Maragato" Gonzalez of Havana's Hotel Plaza started serving the daiquiri up, shaken and strained into a coupe glass, as opposed to shaken and poured into an ice-filled flute. He also swapped in white sugar for brown sugar. This new presentation, along with the sweetener switch, allowed the rum to shine. Plus, it wasn't as diluted.

Between the 1920s and 1930s in Cuba, the daiquiri underwent an important transformation. Constantino "Constante" Ribalaigua Vert, bartender and owner of a little bar in Havana called Floridita, perfected the drink with just shaved ice and the whir of an electric blender. And the frozen daiquiri was born.

Soon after, Ernest Hemingway, who was living in Cuba, happened into the bar and, after sampling Constante's frozen creation, requested it sans sugar and with double the rum on account of his diabetes. This, of course, made the cocktail conducive to epic drinking sessions and motivated Hemingway to become a bar regular. In one account from Berry's book, Hemingway put away 15 frozen daiquiris in one sitting. This earned the cocktail a permanent spot on Floridita's menu as the "E. Henmingway [sic] Special."

Papa Hemingway's super tart recipe eventually evolved to the more drinkable Hemingway Daiquiri, a classic that now includes grapefruit juice and maraschino liqueur, in addition to rum and lime.

Around the 1940s and 1950s, thanks to America's growing fascination with exotic, tropical climes, the frozen daiquiri became adopted as a drink to be enjoyed beside a body of waterbe it beach or pool. The original three-ingredient cocktail was forsaken for this sweet slurry, which was available in a variety of fruit flavors and dispensed via machine.

Later on, chain restaurants like TGIFriday's and college bars appropriated the concoction, and eventually instant daiquiri cocktail mixes for the home bartender hit stores.

Decades later, the classic daiquirishaken, not frozenis celebrating a comeback, thanks to cocktail historians, craft bartenders, and rum nerds who work to preserve and preach the original recipe's purity.

Several years ago in Boston, Andrew Dietzco-founder of cocktail fest Thirst Bostonand some of his bartender friends conceived a new hospitality industry drink ritual: the Daiquiri Time-Out (DTO). The DTO is a daiquiri shot to be taken after a stressful situation, or for those who simply need a break. Whether that act originated from the Christopher Walken line in 2005's Wedding Crashers, when Walken's character suggested a daiquiri time out from the game of touch football, is anyone's guess. But Deitz describes it as "a modern day drinking ritual that celebrates that act of taking a moment." And now this mini daiquiri has usurped the Fernet Branca shot as the bartenders' unofficial handshake. A perfect new role for this classic cocktail.

Ernest and  Mary Hemingway circa 1950 at La Floridita in Havana, Cuba. Credit: Ernest Hemingway Collection. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Jeff "Beachbum" Berry Waxes Poetic on A Proper Daiquiri's Vital Components

When Berry was planning his New Orleans tiki and Polynesian restaurant Latitude 29, he spent the better part of a year perfecting his house daiquiri. With only three components, the drink must hit that perfect balance of sweet-sour-boozy using the right ingredients. Below, his discoveries.

Ingredients: Sugar, Lime, Rum

Sugar: After many sugar syrup (alias simple syrup or gomme syrup) trials, my unwavering opinion is: don’t use it. Syrup gives you a glycerine-like mouth-feel, and muddies the crisp, snappy vibe that a proper daiquiri should have. I am 100 percent for dissolving granulated sugar in the lime juice before adding rum and shaking. The difference is striking. And the effort is minimal: It’s the same thing we do when making a proper Old Fashionedand the daiquiri deserves the same respect. Organic cane sugar works best. Don’t use brown sugar, or a gold sugar like turbinado or Demerarathey’re too molasses-y, and they’ll kill the drink.

Lime: I like Persian or Mexican limes, squeezed fresh before shaking. But if you want to pre-squeeze before a dinner party or backyard soiree, the juice will last up to four hours. Key limes are fine, too, but they’re very small. So, you have to squeeze a lot of them and it gets tedious.

Rum: I’ve seen very knowledgeable and talented bloggers, newspaper writers, magazine columnists, bartenders and brand reps all touting daiquiris made with gold rum, dark rum, spiced rum, and even different rums blended together. I call shenanigans. The original Cuban daiquiri—as invented by Jennings Stockton Cox in the port town of Daiquiri, and later perfected in Havana by El Maragato at the Hotel Plaza and Constantino Ribalaigua Vert at Floridita—called for white Cuban rum. And that is the style of rum that makes the drink taste best. But in the name of all that is holy, do not make your daiquiri with a gold rum or a dark rum, no matter how much you like the brand. It may be a nice drink, but call it by another name because it is not a daiquiri. If you use Jamaican rum, you’ve made planter’s punch in a cocktail coupe. If you use Martinique agricole, it’s ti' punch on the stem. The color will be wrong, the density will be wrong, and the drink’s delicate balance will be thrown off.


Don’t bother with giant Kold-Draft cubes, or other king cubes. They won’t give you the dilution you want. If that’s what you’ve got, crack them into smaller pieces, or mix them with a little crushed ice. Otherwise, go with smaller cubes. And fill your shaker to the top.

Technique: Shake, Strain

Give it everything you’ve got and shake for 15 to 20 seconds, or until the outside of your metal shaker frosts. The daiquiri needs to be COLD, and it also needs dilution.

Some people double strain their daiquiris, catching all the ice shards in a fine mesh strainer through which they pour the elixir into the glass. Personally, I don’t mind the shards. But it’s a judgement call, and I don’t judge you either way.

Garnish and Serve

At ease. No need for a garnish. But if you want to dress your drink with a lime wheel on the rim, or a curlicue lime peel in the drink, there’s no harm in it. And who am I to deny the love you show your guests by doing so?

Four daiquiris make me feel much better about the world and the horrible people who are hell-bent on destroying it. Five and I rue the next morning. But that’s just my intake—make of it what you will, and adjust to your own reality.


  • La Florida Daiquiri Number 2: Longtime owner of Floridita, Constantino Ribalaigua Vert's orange-accented daiquiri adds dashes of Curaçao and orange juice to the original.
  • Hemingway Daiquiri: Another Constantino variation, here grapefruit juice and maraschino liqueur join the drink's base ingredients.
  • Don's Special Daiquiri: Don the Beachcomber's tikified daiquiri is sweetened with passion fruit syrup and honey instead of sugar.
  • Nuclear Daiquiri: This is one of the most famous recent daiquiri variations, and one that has been very popular in the U.K. for years. Late bartender Gregor de Gruyther's modern classic daiquiri riff calls for green Chartreuse, overproof rum, and falernum in place of sugar.

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Editor: Kat Odell

Latitude 29

, New Orleans, LA (504) 609-3811

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