"Rums ranging from light and crisp to medium-bodied and assertive really give this old drink some steam."
In this era of high-concept cocktails and science-inflected mixology, a few things remain basic and true. And in late August, as summer expresses its full, sun-searing character while preparing for the capstone weekend of Labor Day, few things are as basic and true, and as cold and desirous, as one of the most simple yet profound drinks in the cocktail canon: the daiquiri.
Last week, Jason Wilson wrote of the appeal of the perfect daiquiri in the Washington Post—and by "perfect" he means not only the most pleasing version of this drink, but those drinks constructed using the daiquiri's original blueprint of nothing more than rum, fresh lime juice and sugar, shaken and served straight up. Wilson writes, "If the word 'daiquiri' makes you think of a frozen blender slushie sort of thing that involves bananas or strawberries, that's cool. But you and I are probably not going to be, like, BFFs or anything."
I wrote about the original daiquiri a while back, and every summer I keep coming back to it and a few of its close relatives, if for no other reason than that this simple mix is one of the most satisfying drinks that can be imbibed during summer's brightest, hottest hours.
Wilson is correct in disdaining some of the sugary goo that is squeezed out of "Daiquiri Dudes" and sold under that drink's name in massive go-cups on Bourbon Street and the Vegas Strip, but while the daiquiri expresses its most eloquent beauty in its simplest form, it's also open to interpretation.
During America's long dry spell of Prohibition, Cuban bartenders constantly riffed on this classic drink for thirsty vacationers who'd boated over from Florida, incorporating ingredients such as grapefruit juice and maraschino liqueur and tossing the whole mix in a Waring blender with a scoop of ice; other, more contemporary bartenders took the fresh-fruit approach, putting a couple of strawberries with the mix in a cocktail shaker or blender. While these drinks may not have the same simple elegance of the basic daiquiri, they can still be quite wonderful, provided they're made with the same care to ingredients and preparation that any good drink deserves.
Wilson notes one other great aspect of the daiquiri: its utility as a test cocktail to try out new rums. This echoes David Wondrich's observations in the September issue of Esquire. Wondrich deploys several of the more flavorful rums on the market in simple daiquiris. While older, richer rums can be too heavy and ponderous to show their best in a daiquiri, rums ranging from light and crisp to medium-bodied and assertive really give this old drink some steam.
Wilson and Wondrich both appreciate the use of a relatively new rum in a daiquiri, Banks 5 Island, which is a blend of more than 20 Caribbean rums, along with a bit of Batavia arrack. Crisp and juicy, this rum also has traces of smoke and pepper, and a rummy funk that Wondrich terms "hogo," which he writes, "used to be a term of art in the rum trade to describe the sulfurous, funky tang that raw-sugarcane spirits throw off."
Long a characteristic that rum producers tried to avoid or to age and filter away, this "hogo" tang is now somewhat in vogue among the spirituous classes, as can be seen in the rising popularity of Smith & Cross Jamaican rum, an overproof spirit with an intense—and intensely alluring—gaminess.
I gave the Banks 5 Island rum a try in a daiquiri last weekend, and felt something close to lust, if not love (and over time, who knows?).
Are you a daiquiri fan? What are some of your favorite rums to use?
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