Imagine yourself in 1950s Havana, Cuba.
The floor-to-ceiling palm trees in the bar are gently swaying in the ceiling fan breeze. The place is packed with men in white suits and Panama hats and women in fitted, low-cut dresses. Or maybe Josephine Baker is purring seductively at you and the swank crowd in a nightclub. As the glamorous world plays itself out, you stand sipping on a cold, refreshing, and tangy rum daquiri.
Sadly, with the lasting 1960s trade embargo, Havana is but a dilapidated, muted vision of its former glory. The popular American association with daiquiris is of a sweet, frozen, blended pink concoction. Back in the day, this was a real drink.
In essence, the daiquiri is simply a rum sour — lime, sugar, and rum, with ice. Depending on the source material, two Americans are credited with bringing the drink to Havana around 1905: Jennings Stockton Cox and/or William Shafter, both of whom tasted similar beverages while on the Cuban coast in the late 1890s. Though all three ingredients were always plentiful (except ice), and a sour mixture couldn’t have been anything new, the drink known as "Ron Bacardi à la Daiquirí" now had an official name.
Daiquiris soon became part of the Latin bongo boom that hit 20th-century America and were consumed in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1920 classic novel This Side of Paradise. During Prohibition, privileged Americans flocked to nearby Cuba for daiquiris and other legal rum drinks. The 1940s and ‘50s saw the popularity of clubs like the Tropicana and Copacabana and stars like Ricky Ricardo. Back in Havana, American writer Ernest Hemingway was pounding daiquiris at La Floridita, the "local" where he reputedly once drank 16 in one sitting. It was there that bartender Constante Ribailagua came up with the Hemingway variation of the daiquiri (see below).
Ribailagua is also credited with creating the first frozen version, though this is still far from the neon-colored slushy of today. This first version was strained into the glass, the crushed ice used for temperature purposes only. But just as modern Americans are discovering the true essence of ethnic cuisines, the classic cocktail movement has brought the original daiquiri back from the sludge.
This transportive deliciousness is but a few shakes away. It’s easy to build on this basic recipe, switching out fruit juices and adding different liqueurs. The mojito is essentially the same cocktail with added muddled mint and club soda to finish, as is the caipirinha, made with Brazilian cachaça. Keep in mind that certain rums are sweeter than others, so the lime to sugar ratio may need to change depending on what you’re using.
— Amanda Schuster, The Spir.it