Daiquiri2

Caribbean Islands (1600s)
Santiago & Havana, Cuba (1900 – 1920)

The Daiquiri is nothing more than a basic “sour” of spirit, citrus, and sugar… but somehow transformative. Done right with the best limes you can find, a Daiquiri will astound people who only know the slushy Slurpee kind they churn out at the chains. If the classic, up style of serving this drink was good enough for JFK and Hemingway, it’s surely good enough for Joe Blow.

Soul-brother of similar sours/daisies (Margarita, Sidecar, Jack Rose, Whiskey Sour), the Daiquiri was popularized by Jennings Cox, an American mining engineer working in Santiago, Cuba around 1896. But mixing rum with lime and sugar was nothing new to the Caribbean, nor to British sailors who were issued daily rations of rum, limes, sugar, and water as “grog” as far back as 1740.

In the beginning, a “sour” was any spirit with lemon and sugar – and not necessarily tart, as the name would suggest. Cocktail historian David Wondrich has uncovered an 1856 menu from Mart Ackermann’s Saloon in Toronto, Canada that lists a Gin Sour and a Brandy Sour. In his pioneering 1862 book “How to Mix Drinks, or the Bon Vivant’s Companion,” Jerry Thomas includes the Gin Sour and Brandy Sour as members of a family of drinks, along with their antecedents: punches, crustas, and daisies. A recipe for a Rum Sour appears in the 1895 cocktail book “The Mixicologist.” Shaking the old rum, lime, and sugar “grog” formula with ice may have been the official crowning of the Daiquiri as we know it, sometime in the late 19th century. The Daiquiri began to appear in recipe books during Prohibition, while Hemingway was living in Havana, Cuba and enjoying a range of Daiquiri variations made by El Floridita bartender Constantino Ribalaigua Vert.

Balance is the key to this drink. A quarter-ounce more or less of any ingredient, a bit too much dilution, and the whole thing falls apart. With drinks like this (small, specific measurements), quality makes a difference. Use the ripest limes you can get. And don’t skimp on the rum. Many mass-market brands cut corners to keep up with demand. The gold standard for many bartenders is Havana Club (in the 3-year aged expression). We’re emerging from under a frustrating and harmful embargo against Cuba here in the United States, in place since 1960 – Havana Club isn’t available at retail just yet, but is permissible to bring in from abroad (but pay attention to the label – Bacardi recently bought the rights to sell a rum made in Puerto Rico called “Havana Club” in limited US markets – it’s not the real deal). Your next best choices are The 86 Co.’s excellent Cuban-style Caña Brava, made in Panama, or Cruzan Aged Light Rum from St. Croix.

THE KIT

Hardware: Shaker, Jigger
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Cocktail glass
Spirits: Light rum (recommended: Havana Club 3, Cruzan, Caña Brava)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Simple syrup
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Spent lime hull half, Lime wheel

HOW TO

Chill a cocktail glass in the freezer at least ten minutes.

In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:
2 oz light rum
1 oz lime juice
3/4 oz simple syrup
1 spent lime hull half

Shake well to blend and chill, then double-strain (to catch small bits of ice and citrus pulp) into the chilled glass. Garnish with a lime wheel, either notched on the rim or floating.

Cuba-LibreHavana, Cuba (1900)
Townhouse Bar & Grill, Emeryville, CA (1995)

This spin on the Cuba Libre is one that can open the minds of your friends who don’t drink cocktails – except for Rum & Coke or Jack & Coke.

Coca-Cola was invented in the 1880s by John Pemberton, a pharmacist in Georgia. His product, originally called “Pemberton’s French Wine Coca,” was marketed as a patent medicine, a cure-all for various popular ailments including constipation, morphine addiction, impotence, and “extreme mental exertion.” Pretty sure its mix of Bordeaux wine, sugar, caffeine, and cocaine would put some pep in anyone’s step! Georgia enacted Prohibition laws in 1886 (trendsetters, way ahead of the national ban in 1920), so in order to keep his popular product moving, Pemberton reformulated his tonic to remove the wine, and it became even more popular.

But Coca-Cola seemed to be missing its booze, and eventually it found a natural companion in Caribbean rum. The original Cuba Libre goes back to just after the 1898 Spanish-American War in Cuba. U.S. soldiers stuck around and brought Coca-Cola with them, adding it to the typical rum and lime in an easy blend: a shot of rum, a squeeze of lime, top it off with Coke and toast with the battle cry of the day: “Free Cuba!” The Cuba Libre / Rum & Coke may be the most popular highball of all time, even inspiring a hit song in the 1940s (originally by Lord Invader, then covered by The Andrews Sisters). By this time, of course, the cocaine content in Coca-Cola had been nixed, just leaving the twin turbos of sugar and caffeine. And beginning in the ’80s, even sugar was booted in favor of the cheaper high-fructose corn syrup. Coke is still made with cane sugar in certain international markets like Mexico – read the ingredients list and look for “The Real Thing.”

Flash forward to the ’90s: Paul Harrington is working the bar at Townhouse up in Emeryville. He gets with two people from Wired magazine to launch a cocktail section on their web site (an incomplete archive by Robert Hess is here for the curious) that helps spur the current cocktail renaissance. His tweak to this tired old drink, suggested by a Venezuelan customer: Add a hit of gin and Angostura, cut back on the Coke – suddenly the high-school drink is all growed up. If you only know the standard version, you might be surprised by the magic that gin & Angostura work on the flavor: rounding down the sweetness and boosting the earthy spiciness.

THE KIT

Hardware: Shaker, Jigger, Barspoon, Straw (optional)
Ice: Ice cubes, Cracked ice
Glassware: Collins glass
Spirits: Light rum (recommended: Havana Club 3, Caña Brava, Cruzan), London Dry gin (recommended: Beefeater, Tanqueray)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Coca-Cola (if you can find imported Mexican Coke, your drink will be even better)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Angostura bitters, Lime wedge

HOW TO

In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:

1 1/2 oz light rum
1/2
oz London Dry gin
3/4
oz lime juice
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into a Collins glass filled about two-thirds of the way up with cracked ice. Top with:

3 oz Coca-Cola

Stir lightly to blend and garnish with a lime wedge. Optionally, serve with a straw.

MargaritaMexico or London (1930s – 1940s)

No singular cocktail has more people claiming its invention than the Margarita. Seems they all want to grab some family blood from America’s most popular cocktail. And, if you ask me, America’s most abused cocktail.

But there’s some strong evidence the cocktail originated in London, of all places – as the “Picador” cocktail, a spin on the classic 2:1:1 Sour template, in a variation known as a Daisy (just a Sour with a liqueur instead of simple syrup). Funny coincidence, “margarita” is Spanish for “daisy”.

You might have to hit five or six bars and restaurants to find one that isn’t made with that god-awful sour mix, even in recipes calling themselves “Cadillac.” How hard can it be to squeeze some fresh citrus, people? Sheesh.

Many people are surprised when I tell them a Margarita (done properly) is one of my favorite cocktails. Many people are also surprised when they taste a proper one for the first time – far different from the frozen, blended version that came out of Dallas in 1971 and came to be the standard for the next forty years. With the rise of fine tequilas since 2000 or so, many bartenders have come to embrace the perfect balance of a well-crafted Margarita, and an appreciation for this fragile and misunderstood spirit. An unusual minor tweak to the standard sour template is the addition of just a teaspoon of rich simple syrup – the drink simply is not the same without it. The syrup adds body and cuts through a strange bitterness that can sometimes linger between the tequila and Cointreau, bringing perfect balance.

Done like a Sidecar, this beauty needs no Slurpee, no salt. Some prefer this one on the rocks instead of served up; Either way works. Sabor es lo primero.

THE KIT

Hardware: Shaker, Jigger
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Cocktail glass or Old Fashioned glass
Spirits: Tequila (blanco or reposado – recommended: El Jimador, Espolón)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Triple sec (recommended: Cointreau)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Lime wheel, Kosher salt (optional)

HOW TO

Chill a cocktail glass in the freezer at least ten minutes.

If you choose to salt the rim, sprinkle some kosher salt on a plate and moisten either the full rim or just half with your lime wheel garnish and lightly press the glass rim into the salt. Try to avoid getting salt on the interior glass surface.

In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:

oz tequila
oz triple sec
3/4 oz lime juice
tsp rich simple syrup

Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into the chilled glass. (As an option, serve over ice cubes in an Old Fashioned glass.) Garnish with a lime wheel.