The Daiquiri: From Stiff Drink to Slushie and Back Again
If a Prohibition-era daiquiri walked into a bar today, it wouldn’t recognize itself. Once the potent drink of archetypal manly men (Hemingway, John F. Kennedy, and high-ranking naval officers all called it a favorite), the daiquiri is more commonly known today as an alcoholic slushie favored by cocoa-buttered spring breaker set, blender-whipped and available in a rainbow of syrupy tropical flavors. So how did a classic cocktail morph into a boozy Big Gulp? Wayne Curtis, author of And a Bottle of Rum, shares the story of the drink and reintroduces the daiquiri as it should be-a strong, perfectly balanced cocktail with a flurry of ice shards on its pale surface looking, as Hemingway wrote, like the wake of a ship’s bow cutting through the sea.
Photo: Getty Images
The origin of the classic daiquiri
The widely accepted creation myth goes like this: In the 1890s, an American mining engineer named Jennings Cox was working for the Spanish-American Iron Company in the small village of Daiquiri, Cuba. He mixed up a drink with local rum, lime juice, sugar, and served it over ice. “The daiquiri cuts through the humidity, heat, and haze of the tropics with an uncanny precision,” Curtis writes in his book. “It has an invitingly translucent appearance when made well, as cool and lustrous as alabaster.” The cocktail didn’t hit American shores until 1909, when Admiral Lucius W. Johnson brought the drink back from Cuba to the Army and Navy Club in Washington, DC. “The main problem with [the story],” Curtis told Yahoo, “is that somebody in the 1890s did not invent mixing lime and sugar and rum. That’s been done for a long time. Probably the one thing that he did add to it was the ice. Before that, it would have been drunk warm.”
Sailors are served their rum ration
Rum falls out of favor
For Cox, Lucius, and drinkers at the Army and Navy Club more accustomed to drinking whiskey or gin, the drink would have been a novelty. “Rum was a hugely popular drink in North America up until about the Revolution,” Curtis told Yahoo. “Then it disappeared by the late 19th century more or less because whiskey was so much more available, and was a lot harder to source the rum. And the rum was pretty bad.” With a reputation as “rotgut swill that the sailors would suck down to stay warm,” rum didn’t regain popularity with American drinkers—and the daiquiri didn’t solidly gain its foothold—until Prohibition drove them to Cuba’s barstools and the favorite local cocktail.