It seems like every week when I mention a drink, I have to qualify it with the fact that this one is different than what you are used to. Take the Whiskey Sour—until you have had it prepared properly and with fresh ingredients you are really missing everything that made this cocktail popular in the first place. Yet another example is the Daiquiri. It seems that these days any cocktail with rum in it is either a "fill-in-the-blank" mojito or daiquiri. But it wasn't always so.
They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and I suppose that also could apply to cocktails. It certainly does for me. I mean, have you ever wanted a mixed drink—at home or otherwise—and you were forced to invent something based on the ingredients at hand? Well, it's likely that this is exactly how the Daiquiri came into existance. Some things Cuba has in abundance are fresh limes, sugar cane, and rum. It doesn't take much to imagine a thirsty Cuban simply taking what was available and mixing them together to make one of the best all-around cocktails ever created.
2 oz rum
.5 oz lime juice
.75 oz simple syrup (1:1)
Add the rum, the lime juice and simple syrup to a mixing glass. Add lots of ice, seal the mixer and shake until chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and serve.
It's really that simple, but with only three ingredients, balance in this drink is extremely important. Like the Whiskey Sour from a couple of weeks back, we have a base spirit, a souring agent and a sweetener. We are essentially creating a "rum sour" when it boils right down to it. However, this time our souring agent is fresh lime juice. I used a basic 1:1 ratio simple syrup to make this, but you could use less of a stronger syrup if that's what you have. The important point to recognize is that you are striving for the perfect balance of sweet and sour, and this can sometimes require tweaking the proportions with just a dash or two of lime juice, or bit more syrup. You really have to taste the drink to know if you are getting balanced results. An easy way to do this is to use a sipping/stir straw. Dip one end into the mixing glass. Then, cap the other end with your finger, sealing it to create a vacuum that will hold just a tiny sample as you lift it out. Sip from the bottom of this straw while releasing your finger and discard. Testing in this way ensures you get a small taste without soiling the mixing glass.
For heaven's sake, don't use a sweet and sour bottled mixer for this. And by all means, don't use Rose's lime juice. Sure, you can probably find something called "daiquiri mix" on the shelf of your supermarket claiming that all you need to add is rum, but this is often just a mixture of corn syrup, citric acid and artificial color. Don't even think about it. The Daiquiri is such an easy cocktail to whip up that you aren't saving any time, and you certainly aren't saving money by using a bottled mixer. Go with fresh limes every time. The moment you taste a properly balanced version of this cocktail that uses fresh ingredients you will understand. The wonderful flavors of the rum are showcased, mingling with the sugar and the lime in a way that will make you love this cocktail. Its utter simplicity also makes the Daiquiri a good starting point for experimentation.
The Frozen Variety
It may come as a surprise when you first see my images of the Daiquiri, but this drink is not supposed to be blended with ice. Still, most of us have grown accustomed to seeing the frozen version. If you like frozen drinks, by all means, have fun. However, you really need to try it without the blender at least once to understand how it is supposed to taste. I have several problems with the frozen version: First, it can be very hard to measure the ice. After all, when you are drinking this as a slushy, the ice is diluting the cocktail and stretching the ingredients. This makes it impossible to balance the flavor. You get what you get, and better luck next time. It also creates the tendency toward additional sugar and lime to boost the flavor. This resembles the overly-sweened versions that usually come out of machines. The second problem I have is dilution as you drink it. As the blended ice melts, the flavor changes. You end up drinking all of the liquid first, leaving just melting ice slush in the glass and a very diluted finish. Finally, there is the blender. Not everyone has one, and it's another piece of equipment to clean. Of course, you need electricity to use it—not that you would be making drinks by candlelight—but remember the part about necessity? You might not have access to an outlet, and you shouldn't need to use loud, expensive equipment to make this amazing cocktail.
Give the Daiquiri a try. Make it in the classic style as I have and tell me it's not one of the best drinks in your repertoire. Try this on a hot day in June, or right now in the middle of winter. Once you've mastered the art of balancing the ingredients, other cocktails will become easier too. Then, it's time to explore some variations on this theme, such as the Hemingway Daiquiri, or one with muddled fruit.