Just Add Ice
Raise your glass in defence of the daiquiri
A true daiquiri bears little resemblance to the luminous, American-sized monstrosities found on far too many cocktail menus
You’ve seen those daiquiris? The ones they serve at those places — you know where — in those big hurricane glasses, with 2.5 ocean-clogging, plastic, bendy straws. They are fruit-flavoured and a vivid red or a deep ochre in colour. They are American in size, comically large and slushy, as if we’re fulfilling our teen fantasy of getting loaded at the movies by sneaking alcohol into a raspberry Slush Puppy. These monstrosities have sullied the good name “daiquiri”. It’s not just here either. I’ve seen things …
I went to New Orleans with a deep, soulful longing for bourbon, blues and train-hopping “dirty kids” playing bluegrass on street corners. I thought it would be all jambalaya and Sazeracs, Peychaud's Bitters by the shot. But, really, the beating heart of New Orleans is the drunk Mid-Life Crisis-ee, stumbling around the streets, plastered at two in the afternoon, clutching a neon plastic footlong hurricane “glass” — their head bobbing and weaving to find the straw, to suck out all that frozen, fruity, chemically, daiquiri goodness. The great irony of New Orleans is that, if you’re not immediately drunk, you’ll leave teetotal. It’s a mess. (The dirty kid musician thing is real and rife though — and an absolute joy.)
Anyway ... back to the daiquiri. The daiquiri had been making me sad for years. My mom used to make “daiquiris” by blending strawberry ice cream and rum with a hand blender, so I’m coming from a low point here. They had never been on my radar in a real way. They were things served in ludicrous glasses in restaurants that weren’t exactly renowned for any sort of discerning drinking. I’m talking the kind of restaurant that has both a shooters menu and a kid’s menu. Daiquiris belonged on standard “we-put-grenadine-in-everything” cocktail lists, alongside compatriots the Long Island iced tea, sex on the beach, tequila sunrise, fuzzy navel and things made with Malibu.
That is until I walked into a small, immaculate restaurant in Portland, Maine. My friend Tanya had pointed me in its direction, saying, “I know the bartender from New York”. As if this sentence hadn’t been uttered before, to varying diabolical degrees. But there I found myself, nonetheless. The counters were grey marble. The list, small. Around me, a few quiet guests were sipping on cold craft beers. (It was New England, after all.)
The New York Bartender, slid across the counter to me a frosty glass with a small, perfect drink in it. And there it was. The perfect daiquiri. The drink I didn’t know I was looking for my whole drinking life. White rum, fresh lime juice, a little sugar and Peychaud's Bitters. No frills, no garnish — not even a fancy glass. Just a perfectly balanced drink— just tart enough, just sweet enough, just boozy enough.
It’s now a drink I go back to again and again. It’s the perfect starter drink and the perfect pick-me-up. It’s even a good way to end the night after a heavy meal when what you need is a bit of zest and a kick. I don’t remember the name of the restaurant or Tanya’s New York Bartender. I just think of him as the guy who made me drink daiquiris. And, if it was me, I’d be OK with that.
HOW TO MAKE THE PERFECT DAIQUIRI
60ml Havana Club Anejo 3 Year Old Rum (white rum)
30ml freshly-squeezed lime juice
20ml simple syrup
1 dash Peychaud's Bitters (optional, but delicious. You'll probably only have your hands on a bottle if you're a bitters geek and you've smuggled it in.)
- Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker.
- Add ice, shake hard and double strain into a short glass.
• Self-proclaimed "cocktail curmudgeon" Eloise Windebank professes that she likes drinks more than she likes people. Find her mixing up the classics at Farro, her casual fine-dining restaurant and bar in Joburg.