Mint Juleps

September 27, 2012

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about one of my very favourite drinks, the Mojito.

This week, it’s the turn of another, and much more venerable mint drink, the Mint Julep.

“The Mint Julep is basically just a Mojito but with Bourbon”.

Or so said the poor lady who went on to royally screw-up a Mint Julep (in ways you couldn’t imagine) on video, forcing this fine video rebuttal from veteran cocktail blogger Jeffrey Morgenthaler. Morgenthaler’s video is great.

I’ll get to his recipe in a minute.

The ‘Julep’ seems to be yet another of those potent potions that started life as a medicine (remember my posts on Pink Gin, Dubonnet, Benedictine, Gin and Tonic, Navy Rum, Absinthe and even the original ‘cocktail’?)  The word is probably Arabic, and according to David Wondrich all early citations are for Julep as medicine pure and simple.

Yet by the time it got to America, they were putting booze in it (what a surprise) and after a while they added mint. And a while later that word, like the word ‘smash’, meant a mint drink.

And like the Sazerac, it wasn’t originally a whiskey drink. It was made with brandy. Only after the phylloxera epidemics of the 19th century wiped out most of the grapes did the spirit of choice switch from Cognac to Bourbon.

Throughout 19th Century America, the Mint Julep ruled the roost as the quintessential drink of the civilised gentleman, and the most famous mixed drink known to man. In short, it was the Martini of its time.

But by the early 20th century the Julep was already in fast decline. It was now a symbol of a fading, if not lost, quaint agrarian (and certainly Southern) past. I recently watched the John Ford film ‘Judge Priest’ about ‘the South of yesteryear’ and the Mint Julep (along with the black maid and the brave Civil War veteran) is one of the recurring symbols of this era.

And so I had imagined that it was still that way in the South. Any respectable bar in a good Confederate state would regularly mix up Juleps for its more discerning patrons. A little research on the net suggests that this might not be the case. I have read reports that in Kentucky, spiritual home of the Julep, they are almost unheard of outside of Derby Day (when they are the traditional drink) and then drunk mostly by tourists.

Now the big admission. I hadn’t actually drunk a Julep until a couple of weeks ago. Like the Sazerac, the Mint Julep is one of those drinks that I have read about for a long time, but never quite had the ingredients for. With the Sazerac, rye whiskey, absinthe and Peychaud’s Bitters were all difficult for me. What was the hard-to-find ingredient for the Mint Julep? A tin cup. Yes, Juleps are supposed to be served in special metal ‘julep cups’ and I’m a bit silly about getting things right sometimes. I never found one. Instead I just used the bottom of a small cobbler shaker.

OK, the basic Julep recipe is Bourbon, sugar, water, mint and a lot of ice. The first recipe I tried was the one I mentioned in Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s video:

Mint Julep #1 (Morgenthaler)

2 oz Bourbon

1 tsp simple syrup

12-20 mint leaves

several mint sprigs

Gently muddle the leaves and simple syrup (in a Julep cup, if possible). Add Bourbon. Fill with crushed ice. Garnish with a bunch of mint sprigs.

That’s it. A very simple recipe. As I mentioned with Mojitos, it’s very important not to over-muddle the mint leaves. Just press them lightly so that they release their essential oils. And as I also mentioned, crushed ice makes the drink. Smash the hell out of it with a rolling-pin in a laundry bag (take your undies out first). Pack the ice in, and the Julep cup will frost nicely on the outside.

Morgenthaler used Woodford Reserve, and as I adore that Bourbon (available cheaply in Taipei, here), I tried that too.

BUT … I wasn’t particularly impressed. I think I like my mint drinks sweeter. I’m not usually a huge fan of sweet, but I like my Mojitos with twice as much sugar as my Daiquiris. I decided to sweeten things up. That meant more sugar and a sweeter Bourbon.

Now I’ve noticed that cocktail writers who are old-time bartenders seem to make their drinks sweeter than those who are more ardent modern cocktail revivalists. These old-timers probably realize that the average bar punter likes their drinks sweeter than we modern cocktail geeks. So I turned to the New Orleans drinks god Chris Macmillian.

Mint Julep #2 (Macmillian)

3 oz Bourbon

1 tablespoon simple syrup

several mint leaves

several mint sprigs

Gently muddle mint leaves (in Julep cup if possible). Pack the cup with crushed ice, making a large cone on top. Pour Bourbon over the top slowly. Pour sugar syrup slowly over the top. Do not stir. Give a nice big sprig (or few) of mint a good slap to wake it up, and garnish.

Chris makes his with Maker’s Mark, a much sweeter and smoother Bourbon than the Woodford, and one which I was not particularly fond of. Also 1 TB sugar is a big raise form 1 tsp. That said, with the trickling through the ice, not so much of it actually gets through.

Well, I likes this one much more. I think I was right about wanting it sweeter. And maybe I was just getting used to Juleps. I liked the next couple even more.

As usual, one of my best booze anecdotes comes from Eric Felten’s great book, How’s Your Drink. He tells how Teddy Roosevelt defended against accusations that his high-spirited behaviour was due to high quantities of spirits. He threatened to sue anyone who printed them. Someone did. He sued. This was just a few years before prohibition and he wanted to straddle the great moral issue of the day. So he swore (on oath, in court) that he never drank highballs or cocktails, but that while in the Whitehouse he had sipped a few Mint Juleps. Luckily for posterity, there is a record of how they were made for the President in the day:

T. R. ‘s Libelous Mint Julep

4 oz rye whiskey

1/4 oz brandy

fresh mint

1 sugar cube

Sliced pineapple. banana, orange and cherries

Gently muddle a few leaves of mint with the sugar and a good splash of water (in a Julep cup, if you can). Add spirits and fill with crushed ice. Stir until the outside of the cup frosts. Garnish with plenty of fruit and mint.

This is quite different, but really quite good. I don’t usually go for all that fruit (the ‘garbage’ as it was called back in the days when it was common), but it was nice for a change, and you can’t deny the appeal for some people who like a fancy fresh-looking presentation (I’m thinking of my wife here). Rye makes for a great change, if you can get it (and for my fellow Taiwan-dwellers, sorry, you’re out of luck), and I’ve noticed before that a little bit of brandy goes very nicely with rye. And I can’t think of a nicer way to get my daily vitamins.

Finally here’s a Julep which is called a Smash. There’s not much difference really. They’re both terms for mint drinks. The Smash is just smaller. This one was provided by cocktail-revival godfather Dale DeGroff as his contribution to the last section of David Wondrich’s book Imbibe – the section for modern drinks ‘in the spirit of Jerry Thomas’.

Whiskey Peach Smash

2 oz Bourbon

1 oz orange Curacao

5 mint leaves and 1 sprig

3 peach slices

1/2 lemon, quartered

Muddle the mint leaves, two of the peach slices, lemon pieces and Curacao. Add Bourbon, shake well and strain into a rocks glass of ice. Garnish with mint sprig and the last slice of peach.

DeGroff calls for ‘bonded’ Bourbon, so use 50% ABV if you can. I used Knob Creek.

I really liked this too. I have to conclude that a little sweetness and a touch of fruit doesn’t hurt a Julep (or Smash).

That’s it for Juleps.

Part 1: Mojitos

Part 2: Smashes


MxMo: Pousse Café

September 16, 2012

It’s Mixology Monday!

Mixology Monday is an online gathering of cocktail bloggers who simultaneously post on the same theme. The event has been dormant since about the time I started blogging, so this is my first go at it. Hosting and organising has been taken over by veteran blogger cocktail virgin slut. In a couple of days or something, there’ll be a round-up post over there with all submissions on the theme. Oh, and as it’s my first time, I hereby take a solemn oath to read every MxMo post, and try every MxMo drink that I have the ingredients for (and report back).

Edit: Here’s the round-up of all entries. I’m drinking my way through the ones I have ingredients for (about half).

This month’s theme is ‘Equal Parts’ – drinks that consist of ingredients all measured in equal parts (with the possible exceptions of bitters and garnishes). These drinks can be difficult. When they work, you get wonders such as the Negroni – Gin, Campari, and Vermouth – which is not a gin drink but something wonderful created at the meeting place of all three ingredients. When they don’t work, you lose the qualities of all component ingredients in a mess that is nay one thing nor t’other.

For my MxMo debut, I’ve chosen the Pousse Café – think of it as a kind of layered shot – and in retrospect, it was a mistake. I was thinking Pousse Café – a lost art of drinking from yesteryear – what could be better? In reality the Pousse Café is really the embodiment of anti-mixology (you’re actually striving to keep the ingredients apart), and the more I researched it the more I realised I was travelling further down a dead-end street. Add to that the fact that the ingredients – mostly sweet liqueurs and maybe some cream – and in fact all ‘dessert drinks’, are decidedly un-hip in modern cocktail circles, and it was clear that I was not on to a winner. But I’m a stubborn bastard, so I persisted, subjecting myself to hours of careful anti-mixing, ounces upon ounces of sipping and shooting, and further hours upon hours working on my abysmal photography. An entire weekend dedicated to the craft. The things I do!

So what is Pousse Café? It’s a drink made up of different  liquors – generally sweet liqueurs – carefully poured one on the other to create a pleasing colourful glass of striped layers. Originating in France, it became popular in New Orleans where it was drunk with after-dinner coffee; Pousse Café means ‘push-coffee’. Trust the French to come up with it. They have to have the appropriate beverage to accompany each course of their meal, and heaven forbid that they should have to endure even the coffee course without alcoholic refreshment.

Now I just said that the Pousse Café was a kind of layered shot. Maybe, in it’s modern guise (the B-52 or the Slippery Nipple) it is, but in times gone by it most decidedly was NOT! In fact, to down a Pousse in one was a drinking faux pas par excellence! I’ve got all my Pousse Café recipes from Trader Vic’s Bartenders’ Guide, and here’s what he has to say on the matter (in the section ‘People Bartenders Don’t Like’):

Another ass who makes bartenders blow their corks is the show-off who orders fancy drinks – usually when the bar is crowded and the rush is on – just to impress his companions. I almost lost one of my best men one night; it took three guys to hold him when one such nit-wit ordered an eight-color Pousse Café. The bartender sweat bullets getting the damn thing cooked up; spoiled the first two because he couoldn’t remember which liqueurs were the heaviest (you get an order for one of the fool things once every five years), but he finally sent it to the table with pride. It was beautiful, glowing with color. And what did the guy do but display it to his friends and then down it with one gulp like a straight shot! In case there’s anyone in the world who doesn’t know how to drink a Pousse Café, it should be sipped, one color at a time.

So aside from the correct way to drink a Pousse Café there’s a couple of things to learn from that passage. Firstly they’re damn difficult to make. Secondly, by 1948 when Trader Vic was writing, they were already old hat. Pousse was passé.

There is very little that I was able to find (online or in my books) written about Pousse Café, which was one of the reasons I wanted to try it in the first place. The gist seems to be that they were popular in the 1840s, perhaps peaking in the 1890s, and dropped off in fashionability quickly afterwards. Some reports say they were sipped layer by layer, and others suggest silver straws were used (I like the latter – the flavours seem to blend together more nicely without being jumbled up – but I’m not even going to write off the third drinking method. Shooting them is sometimes the best way to go, and there’s something lovely in a shot where three or four different flavours hit you one after the other – “ooh, ahh, oh, mmm”.)

Once again it was Eric Felten to the rescue. In his wonderful book, How’s Your Drink?, I found a few pages dedicated to Pousse Café. He writes about how Trader Vic’s story above was something of an urban legend designed to show the sort of mistakes country bumpkins made when travelling to big-city bars and ordering drinks that used to be very fashionable – and then not knowing what to do with them:

Take this New York Times headline from May 1903: “A POUSSE CAFÉ SACRILEGE: Customer’s Way of Disposing of the Drink Astounded Its Concocter.” The article describes a well-dressed customer — albeit one with “an air of the provincial about him” — ambling into the Fifth Avenue Hotel bar and ordering a Pousse Café. Bartender Hugh Dame, “one of the dispensers of exhilarating concoctions,” worked a quarter of an hour on an eight-layer masterpiece. “The purchaser watched the process and when the glass was placed before him asked for a straw.” As the bartender “saw the customer coolly insert it in the mixture and stir the contents of the glass, he clasped his hands to his hips and gazed in astonishment. He could not speak.” The customer drained the muddy mixture, paid and left, while Dame’s apoplectic face was fixed in “a rare study for an artist.”

Actually you can read most of what Eric Felten had to say about Pousse Café in his Wall Street Journal column, here.

On to technique. It’s not that difficult really. It just comes down to two things. First, know the ‘specific gravity’ of your drinks. Denser drinks will sit on the bottom. Higher alcohol content makes them go up. More sugar makes them go down. So booziest last, unless it’s particularly sweet.

Second, you have to pour them in very carefully. Otherwise, if the density is too close they’ll mix together, or one will streak up into the one above. Or, if you’ve got the densities wrong, the heavier one will sink to the bottom, but it will drag a line of the other colored spirit with it, mixing up the color scheme. So the usual trick is to pour them down the back of your bar spoon handle very slowly, with the tip of the handle just touching the surface of the liquid, right up against the side of the glass.

The drinks themselves? Well, I tried about a dozen, all from Trader Vic’s. They’re much of a muchness really. I hardly think we’re going to see a ‘Pousse Café revival’. You’re basically just sipping sweet liqueurs. It’s alright, but most of these drinks taste better mixed or a least very well iced. Or maybe you’re shooting them, which (despite admonitions from decades prior) is fine too, but if you’re doing shots, you’re hardly going to go to the effort of doing multi-layered Pousse Café, are you? Unless you’re showing off. And really that’s the only niche I can see for Pousse Café; a show-offy über-shooter to order at a bar, or serve with dessert as a fancy lark.

So I’m not going to choose a favourite or comment on each one that I tried. There’s not that much difference between them. Here’s a few:

Oh, and for these recipes, I’m just going to list the ingredients. Remember, this is ‘Equal Parts’ – just divide between the size of your glass – and the instructions are always “Pour carefully in order given into chilled Pousse Café glass to keep colors separate”.




La Creole

raspberry syrup/ liqueur

maraschino liqueur

yellow chartreuse

green chartreuse

The first I tried. The colours mixed a little.





orange curacao

yellow chartreuse


This is what Eric Felten calls Triple Pousse Café.




Stars and Stripes

creme de cassis

maraschino liqueur

green chartreuse

I have no idea why the name. Black, white and green?




Union Jack


maraschino liqueur

green chartreuse

Again, ‘Union Jack’? Red, white and green?




Pousse L’Amour 1

maraschino liqueur


1 egg yolk


Trader Vic gives three Pousse L’Amour recipes, all containing egg yolk. It sounded revolting, so I had to give it a go. It looked and tasted disgusting. The photo does not do justice to its awfulness. It was like one of those Baileys and soda concoctions we used to inflict upon each other in sadistic drinking games when we were students – all curdled up and horrible. Not wanting to sip the menstrual waste of a chicken through a straw, I did this one as a shot. The taste stayed with me all night. That was not a good thing. Avoid at all costs. (I can only assume that the name ‘Pousse L’Amour’ means this is the drink you give your lady-love when you want to give her the push.)




Pousse Café  Rainbow


green creme de menthe

maraschino liqueur

orange curacao

yellow chartreuse


I worked my way up to the big ones. This is also the one pictured at the start of this article.




12-Layer Pousse Café


creme de cassis

green creme de menthe

maraschino liqueur

elderflower liqueur

orange curacao


yellow chartreuse

green chartreuse

fernet branca


over-proof rum

I decided to go for gold and make my own, with as many layers as I could, and incorporating a couple of non-traditional ingredients (St Germain, and Fernet – why not?). Even after making a miniature to test, I still managed to mix up the layers slightly, and wasn’t about to drink and retry just to get it perfect. Seeing as these things are all for show, you may as well add some high-proof liquor and set it on fire, right? I tried that too.




Pousse Negroni


Italian vermouth


May as well, right? I gave it a go. Bad in layers, fine as a gimmicky shot, but nothing on a real Negroni.




Table of Specific Gravities

This is a rough guide to the ordering of liquors in a Pousse Café, ‘heaviest’ first. Different brands, sweetnesses and alcohol contents will alter things.

The rule of thumb is that more sugar will sink and more alcohol will rise.

(Brackets) indicates a drink I didn’t try myself, approximate position deduced from the ordering in Trader Vic’s (which is a little inconsistent anyway).

<Triangle brackets> indicates a non-traditional drink I tried and added to the list.


creme de cassis


creme de menthe

Chambord raspberry liqueur


maraschino liqueur

<Elderflower Liqueur>

Marie Brizzard orange curacao

Grand Marnier

(creme de violette, creme Yvette, parfait amour)



Yellow Chartreuse

Green Chartreuse

<Fernet Branca>


over-proof rum







As I already said earlier, I think the anti-mixology of Pousse Café is a bit of a dead end. However, they’re not a total write-off. Most of those liqueurs are pretty nice, and it could well be worth knowing how to do them for that occasion when you want something pretty and unusual. Still, I can’t wait to get back to nice cold decent cocktails. I feel like a Daiquiri.


September 9, 2012

Last week, I blogged about Daiquiris – rum, sugar and lime. The Mojito is just a variation on this which has got mint a bit of soda added, but it has become by far the more popular of the two these days.

The Mojito has a special place in my heart. It’s the drink that got me interested in cocktails in the first place. This was just two years ago.


1989. I’m at university in Wellington. Two-for-one cocktails at the Southern Cross – Grasshoppers, Fluffy Ducks and other weak, creamy, sweet concoctions. The odd occasion where we’d pool funds and have a ‘cocktail night’ (Grasshoppers, Fluffy Ducks and other weak, creamy, sweet concoctions.)


It’s the mid-90s. We’re too into goatee’d slacker hip to drink beer. Lounge music is in. We’ve been told that the true retro cool is a Martini (made with Bombay Sapphire) so dry that the vermouth is just used to wash the ice, or waved in the direction of France. We obligingly become cocktail drinkers, but go no further than this height of sophistication because where else is there to go?


2010. I’m in Taiwan and thankfully haven’t had an extra-dry (or any) Martini for over a decade. My knowledge of cocktails is limited to insisting that a Martini is only made with gin (not vodka) and always stirred (not shaken). I couldn’t name you the ingredients of a Manhattan or a Daiquiri. And I’d never heard of a Mojito.

Septmeber 2010. I’m watching back episodes of Burn Notice. It’s a fun show. Not too sophisticated, for sure, but it goes down easy. And what’s that drink Sam Axe keeps drinking called a Mojito? It looks nice and refreshing.

Moon Festival, September 2010. For a Mid-Autumn Festival I invite the Taiwanese in-laws and a good Aussie friend over for a BBQ on the roof. Having avidly researched the Mojito on the Internet for days (OK, watched a bunch of YouTube videos), I get the Bacardi ready, and mix my first cocktails since student days. They went down well all round.

Summer 2011. Round for afternoon’s drinking at a friend’s house, I try making Mojitos again. By this time, I know that it’s a very popular drink in America, and am becoming aware that there’s a big developing cocktail scene that’s been going on for a good few years. And now I have Havana Club. The Mojitos go down even better. My drinking mates, despite being staunch Republicans who should really oppose trade with Cuba, agree that the Havana Club is much nicer than Bacardi.

Present Day

Now, I’ve drunk quite a few Mojitos in bars and I’ve researched a lot of recipes. I don’t claim to be an expert, but I think there’s a lot of bad Mojitos out there. Here’s my advice:

The Top Five Mistakes Made When Mixing Mojitos

1. Using Bacardi. Bacardi is not Cuban rum anymore. It’s too weak, and not that nice. Havana Club is much nicer. Matusalem Platino is also good if you can’t buy true Cuban.

2. Over-muddling the mint. You don’t need to muddle it at all really, if you follow the recipe below. If you do muddle, just lightly press. You just want the essential oils and juices, not the bitterness which comes from a real muddling.

3. Adding too much soda. Use crushed ice so that’s there’s little room for much ice. Then just a splash on top to fill the glass. It’s just to give it a little fizz and sparkle. It wakes the drink up.

4. Shaking. When I’ve had Mojitos in bars they’ve always been shaken. This is just wrong.

5. Muddling the limes. OK, a bit controversial – Mojitos look nice with wedges in the bottom. Problem is, you have no control over the quantity. Limes differ a lot in how much juice they give out (even depending on whether they’re warm or just out of the fridge). ‘Muddle a lime’ is an impossibly vague direction. Good measurement = better drink.

Obligatory History of the Mojito

Possibly related to the ‘El Draque’ that Francis Drake drank. Maybe invented by slaves in Cuba. The word might come from ‘mojo’ (as in, I’ve lost my mojo, baby!) or from ‘mojado’ meaning wet, or from a lime-based seasoning called ‘mojo’. Hemingway loved them. Blah, blah. It’s pretty dull and even vaguer than usual, as far as cocktail histories go. Let’s skip to the good part.

The Mojito

2 oz Cuban rum (white)

1 oz freshly-squeezed lime juice

10-12 leaves plus one sprig of mint

2 tsp superfine (castor) sugar

Stir the sugar with the lime juice in the bottom of a highball or Collins glass to dissolve it.

Fill the glass about a third with finely crushed ice. (In the video below, he sticks the ice into a shaker and beats the hell out of it with his muddler. I put it in a laundry bag and beat the hell out of it with a rolling pin).

Take your 10-12 mint leaves (or so), rip them in half, rub them over the rim of the glass and drop them in. Use a long bar-spoon to push them down through the ice and stir with the lime and sugar. This abrasive action works instead of muddling to release the flavours of the mint.

Now add your rum, and fill to the brim (or over) with more crushed ice.

Top up with what should be a very small amount of soda (if you’ve filled the glass with nicely crushed ice). Stir lightly to mix in the effervescence of the soda and bring the mint leaves up a little.

Grab a nice big (and pretty) sprig of mint. Give it a slap in the palm of your hand to release its scent. Stick it in the top of the drink.

Serve with a straw that’s just the right length so that your nose is right over that mint when you drink it.



The video below is one of the first I watched when researching Mojitos the first time, and it’s pretty much exactly what I’ve come back to. I’ve learnt from my mate Bunnyhugs and a few other sources that this is also how the best bars in Cuba make them, with two exceptions.

Firstly, they don’t usually use crushed ice in Cuba unless they’re playing to tourist tastes. There’s a story that they used to, but stopped when ice became expensive or crushed ice was nationalized by Castro or all the blenders had been pillaged for spare car parts or something. Nonetheless, I think this drink is vastly superior with crushed ice.

Secondly, although they often use the spearmint we use, they also use a native variety called yerba buena. I have no idea how much of a difference this makes. Just don’t use peppermint.


I’m perfectly happy with my Mojito recipe and don’t feel like messing around trying different ones. There were a couple of things I decided to try though:

Bitters: I was reminded that it is kind of traditional to sometimes serve Mojitos with a dash of Angostura Bitters. I tried it side-by-side with a ‘regular’. It was alright, but I prefer the clean taste, and perhaps even more importantly the clean look) of the original. Then, as I love the Fees Brothers line of bitters, I couldn’t help but buy their mint bitters and try that. I bought the bitters and tasted them. I was very disappointed. They tasted just like some strong artificial peppermint flavouring. I dashed some in a Mojito anyway. Surprisingly, it worked fairly well, and was nowhere near as strong as I had feared. It’s certainly not worth rushing out and buying mint bitters for though.

Agricole: The other thing I couldn’t help but try was mixing a Mojito with my old favourite Neissons Rhum Agricole. This stuff is miles away from the clean crisp cuban Havana Club rum, so it’s a very different drink. Nice enough, if you’re an Agricole fan like me, but really, it’s no Mojito.

Here’s a great Mojito video:

Part 2: Mint Juleps

Part 3: Smashes

Doing Daiquiris

September 1, 2012

My list of favourite drinks just keeps going up, but for quite some time one definite item is the Daiquiri.

(Let’s just get this out of the way: I don’t mean those ‘Frozen Daiquiris’ which are sweet smoothy-style drinks of rum, cointreau, lime, sugar and some fruit blended up and served ice and all – those can actually be nice, refreshing and fun, but a ‘true’ Daiquiri is something nice simple and pure.)

So rum, lime and sugar. That’s it really. From there it’s just proportions and subtle changes that make for the large number of variations that I’ve been ‘researching’ on and off for the last couple of months.

Rum and lime (and the sugar to balance it) are magical companions. I already blogged about how I loved the Ti’ Punch which is this combo with Rhum Agricole instead of normal rum, and the Caipirinha which is the same again with Cachaça instead of rum. Add to that the Mojito – that extremely popular and delicious drink which got me into cocktails two years ago in the first place – and you have a pretty mean arsenal of killer drinks which are basically rum, lime and sugar.

Given that rum, lime and sugar have all been abundant in the Carribean for centuries, it may come as a surprise that the Daiquiri wasn’t invented until around 1900 and that the discovery was made by American mine engineers who had run out of gin. Well, of course it wasn’t, but it does illustrate that it’s creating a name for a drink that counts and making that drink popular that makes it stick. The engineers named the Daiquiri after a beach near Santiago in Cuba, and ten years or so later it was brought back to the US where it became fairly popular for a few more decades and then really popular in the 40s and 50s when whiskey became scarce due to wartime rationing. Famous Daiquiri devotees from this time include John F Kennedy and Ernest Hemingway.

As I said, rum, lime and sugar – that’s it. And now to the fine print. It’s a Cuban drink, so Cuban rum is what’s called for, and it’s generally the white stuff (exceptions will follow). I love my Havana Club, but Cuba won’t sell it to imperialists or something, so drinkers in the US can’t get it. I also think Matusalem Platino (from the Dominican Republic) makes a great traditional Daiquiri and I’ve heard Brughal (also Dominican)can make a good substitute too, but I haven’t tried it myself so I can’t vouch for it. Neither Bacardi nor Angostura make the grade, I’m afraid.

The other main negotiable is the proportions. I tried quite a lot before I settled on my ideal. It’s not a gold standard. Some rums are sweeter than others; some limes more sour. But for me, it’s a solid starting position. I must say though, that I have discovered (from my one little try at bar-tending) that my tastes may well be a lot more sour than those of the majority. My wife is the same way, so that’s the way I make them. Here’s my proportions and basic Daiquiri recipe, then:


2 oz rum (white, Cuban)

1 oz freshly-squeezed lime juice

1 tsp sugar

Stir the sugar in the lime juice to dissolve it (I use super-fine – variations possible). Add ice (crushed is good) and rum. Shake well. Serve either strained into a chilled cocktail glass or frappe over crushed ice (or in a highball glass of crushed ice, or a rocks glass with ice cubes – it’s all good).

Straight-up is nice, but I really like this with crushed ice on a hot evening. That’s another way to vary this very versatile drink.

If you have a sweet tooth, add more sugar (or just harden up a bit).

Daiquiri with bitters

I messed around a bit adding bitters to my Daiquiris. It’s not a drink that normally calls for bitters, but it can make a nice variation.

Chocolate: I think a little chocolate bitters (I used The Bitter Truth) goes quite nicely with the vanilla-caramel tastes of the Matusalem, for a smooth beginners mix which I call the Mellow Daiquiri.

Rhubarb: This is refreshing (I used Fees), especially with the interesting version of Rhum Agricole (more about that in a minute).

Grapefruit and Cherry: I used both of these (Fees: 2 dashes grapefruit, 1 dash cherry) with maraschino in a Papa Doble, and they were excellent. What’s a Papa Doble? More about that later. OK, more about that now.

Papa Doble Daiquiri aka Hemingway Daiquiri aka La Floridita, aka La Florida Daiquiri

So Ernest Hemingway walked into a Cuban bar where they were trying out a new Daiquiri recipe. He liked it and ended up drinking his Daiquiris exclusively at the bar – La Florida (nicknamed La Floridita). The barman made a new recipe just for him and/or one he named for him. Pretty soon there were a bunch of ‘Hemingway’ Daiquiri recipes floating about, one or more of which may have been the one that he actually drank.

These recipes all have maraschino liqueur, and most have grapefruit juice too, which seems to be the way Hemingway drank them. Most recipes have sugar or syrup, but Ernest most likely skipped that (maybe because fo his diabetes). There seems to be a lot of debate about which is the authentic recipe, but it doesn’t really seem particularly important to me.

I played around with quantities quite a bit until I got the proportions I liked.

2 oz rum

1/2 oz lime

3/4 oz grapefruit juice

1/2 tsp maraschino liqueur

1 tsp sugar

Dissolve the sugar in the lime juice. Shake all ingredients with crushed ice and strain into a rocks glass or cocktail glass of crushed ice. Garnish with a lime wheel and a cherry.

Most recipes seem to have more maraschino, and the ones that include grapefruit tend to have equal parts with the lime, but these are the proportions that worked for me. I like marashcino, but too much (which means more than a tiny bit) over-powers a drink. I like grapefruit juice a lot, but as its sourness is less than lemon or lime, you need to balance between getting enough sourness and weakening the drink too much.

Apparently they used a blender at La Floridita, but that doesn’t mean they made it like a slushy-Daiquiri. They blended briefly then strained that onto fresh crushed ice. I think you can do just as well without blending.

As mentioned above, I like a variation I made without grapefruit juice, but with (Fees) grapefruit bitters and cherry bitters:

2 oz rum

1 oz lime juice

1/2 tsp maraschino liqueur

2 dashes grapefruit bitters

1 small dash cherry bitters

I liked this one a lot, but others didn’t. Too sour, I think.

Finally, in Jason Wilson’s book Boozehound, which I admire a lot, he has this Papa Doble:

2 oz rhum agricole

1/2 oz lime juice

1/2 oz grapefruit juice

1 tsp maraschino liqueur

I’ve talked about how much I like (Neissons) rhum agricole before. This makes for a delicious, but very different Daiquiri. I mean, I hesitate to even call it a Daiquiri. It’s closer to a souped-up ‘Ti Punch really, the agricole is that different. The extra maraschino compared to the previous recipes works, because the agricole is so powerful. As I mentioned, I tried an agricole Daiquiri (without maraschino) with rhubarb bitters as well, and it’s also fantastic. I’ve made this a few times now (with Neissons) and if you like some strong funky flavour, I recommend it highly.

More Variations

The Daiquiri is essentially a sour – spirits, sugar, lemon/lime and ice. Cocktail maven Gary Regan coined the phrase ‘New Orleans Sour’ for sours which substitutes Curacao for the sugar. Examples are the Margarita, Sidecar and Cosmopolitan.  Giving the Daiquiri this treatment (and sub in grapefruit for lime) produces this:

The Petit Fleur

1 oz rum

1 oz Cointreau

1 oz grapefruit

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass.

This was too sweet. Double the rum and halve the Cointreau for a much better drink. The rum then shines through, the Cointreau definitely adds to and the grapefruit … well, I’m not sure it quite works – maybe it would be better strengthened with a little lime.

I love Cointreau, king of the Curacaos. Some think it too sweet, but I think it’s a delicious sweetness that is not at all sickly. I could gladly sip Cointreau straight from the bottle all night, ice only improves it, and it’s aces in cocktails. Spirits guru extraordinaire F. Paul Pacult names it as one of his five desert island bottles.

It makes this drink quite a refined cocktail, but possibly a little too light-weight.

The next one substitutes grenadine for sugar as the sweetening agent, and was once a popular enough drink to attract law suits.

Bacardi Cocktail

2 oz white rum

1 oz lime juice

1 tsp grenadine

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass.

This is a great cocktail. I love grenadine (it has to be homemade, though) and this, even more than the Jack Rose, is the perfect drink for it.

The name? Well it used to be made with Bacardi, but that was back when Bacardi was actually Cuban and tasted that way too. Do you know what Cubans mean when they say “Bacardi”? They mean Caney –  the rum that’s now made in the old Bacardi distillery.

That didn’t help certain restauranteurs back in 1934 New York, though. Back then the Bacardi cocktail was immensely popular and they got sued for using other rum. In a decision which in my mid is akin to outlawing martinis made with vermouth other than Martini & Rosso, they lost.

I get this information from How’s Your Drink, by Eric Felten, and he supplies this variation which I have yet to try, but looks great:

1 1/2 oz white rum

3/4 oz gin

juice of 1/2 lime

2 tsp grenadine

While I was ‘researching’ this article, well-known cocktail blogger Jeffrey Morgenthaler posted this great video with yet another Daiquiri variant, this time with dark rum.

Morgenthaler Daiquri

2 1/2 oz dark rum

3/4 oz lime juice

1/2 oz simple syrup (made with 2:1 sugar to water)

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass.

I tried it. It was great. It almost changed my mind completely about Daiquiris. After some thought (and trying a few more), I concluded that for a summer refresher the original recipe is still best, with crushed ice, but for cooler weather this dark rum variation, served straight up, is the way to go.

That’s about it for Daiquiris – a great classic drink, especially in the heat. There is one more variation I’d like to talk about, one close to my heart, but I’ll save that for next post. It’s the variety with mint and a splash of soda.

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