The origins of the classic Cuban daiquiri are much in dispute. The consensus favors an American-oriented creation tale, in which a group of U.S. mining engineers in Cuba, circa the early 1900s, concocted the cocktail when they ran out of gin and were forced to fall back on the rum found widely on the island. The Webtender, among others, calls bullshit on this theory, venturing a guess that Cubans enjoyed the drink long before the Yanks came along.
Whatever the origins, however, few argue how or when the cocktail debuted on the U.S. mainland: Credit goes to Adm. Lucius W. Johnson, a Navy medical officer, who allegedly brought the recipe to the Army and Navy Club in 1909. From there, the drink’s popularity spread, in part because rum was easier to get than other spirits during WWII and in part because a certain high-profile president became enamored with the cocktail.
The daiquiri has suffered a number of indignities in the 100 years since it arrived in the states. The drink’s nadir probably occurred sometime in the 1980s, during the height of its popularity. You couldn’t walk into a trendy watering hole without seeing a slush machine gently agitating the florescent slurry. It might be a frozen strawberry daiquiri, a banana daiquiri, or, God forbid, a fruit salad daiquiri.
“It’s a drink that has been so bastardized. It’s like it’s been beaten into an unrecognizable form,” says Derek M. Brown, the mix-master behind the bar at the Gibson. ” They don’t even bother to name the fruit anymore. It just blue or red.”
Fortunately, Brown still honors the daiquiri’s humble traditions at the Gibson, where the mixologist’s variations are among the most popular drinks. Brown offers a Brunswick Sour, which is just a vintage daiquiri (rum, sugar/simple syrup, and fresh lime juice) with a float of claret on top. He also mixes a Martinique daiquiri in which he vigorously shakes lime juice, cane sugar, Luxardo maraschino liqueur, and Neisson rum agricole and strains the mixture into a cocktail glass. Brown even serves up a Papa Doble, that famous double-helping of sugarless frappe daiquiri, which Hemingway loved to down by the dozen at the Florida bar. Or even by the 16s.
It seems only fitting that D.C. take part in stripping away all the mystery-fruit excesses that have surrounded the daiquiri over the years. The District gave the country the daiquiri. We should be the city to reclaim its original recipe.
So this weekend, raise a glass to the centennial of the daiquiri — by ordering a real one. Or making your own.
Photo by jetalone via Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License