These are golden days for the Daiquiri. This simple, rum-based cocktail has had more than its fair share of ups and downs over the decades, from its ubiquity in bars in Cuba (and, later, the United States) during Prohibition and subsequent years, to its late-20th century fall from grace, the once-proud cocktail rendered mawkish and saccharine by its journey through the mass-produced frozen-drink dispenser.
The cocktail renaissance has restored the Daiquiri’s crown, and today’s bartenders continue to develop variations and interpretations of the drink, which has always lent itself to creativity. But the Daiquiri’s identity is defined by the basic mixture of rum, lime and sugar, and we asked several bartenders around the country for their preferred rums for making the ideal Daiquiri. (And any exploration of the Daiquiri should be an interactive venture—bookmark the recipe for a classic Daiquiri, and prepare to mix along.)
For many, the Daiquiri is the essential rum cocktail, what the Martini is to gin and the Manhattan is to American whiskey. When author and cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry opened his New Orleans bar, Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29, in 2014, he knew that his approach to the Daiquiri would influence how guests reacted to the bar. “I knew that when I opened Latitude, that I’d be judged on two cocktails: the tiki people would judge us on our Mai Tai, and the cocktail people would judge us on our Daiquiri,” Berry says. “That’s always what non-tiki people order in a tiki bar. I spent about a year working on our Daiquiri, and from that, I knew that it needed a dry white rum, and above 80 proof.”
Berry’s choice of rum wasn’t a matter of personal preference. At the time of the Daiquiri’s original development, the rum-making approach in its Cuban birthplace resulted in a style of spirit that was dry and crisp, but with a nuanced cascade of flavor. This style of rum was essential to the Daiquiri’s rise, and the growth of classic variations such as the Floridita Daiquiri. As a scholar of exotic drinks, Berry knew that the drink’s identity was closely related to the style of rum, so he dug in his heels against more wide-ranging interpretations. “There’s been too much latitude granted to Daiquiri recipes—to me, a Daiquiri isn’t a Daiquiri if it uses anything but a Spanish-style white rum,” he says. “I’ve had drinks called a Daiquiri that use rhum agricole—that’s a ‘Ti Punch in a coupe glass. Or with a Jamaican rum—that’s a Planter’s Punch. You have to honor the original recipe, I think. There’s nothing to stop you from making 8 million Daiquiri variations, but those are variations. You need that crisp snap from a dry white rum, that’s preferably 87 to 89 proof. Bacardi rum was basically 89 proof back then, and that was the Cuban standard. With 80 proof rum, there’s too much water in the bottle, it doesn’t have the snap or the ABV to assert itself against the lime and the sugar.”
Berry notes that there are rums available that thread the needle of the Daiquiri’s needs—a limited edition bottling of Bacardi Superior Heritage fit the Daiquiri’s bill, and rums such as Caña Brava and Plantation Three Star are also custom-fitted for Daiquiris.
At Rumba in Seattle, general manager Jen Akin says that a dry-style rum is also the way to go, but Daiquiris in the cool, wet Pacific Northwest sometimes benefit from an added undercurrent. For the Daiquiris at Rumba, bartenders utilize a house blend, she says. “Our rum blend has more Spanish-style, column-distilled rum with a bit of wood character, and we like to throw in a little Jamaican funk, and a Barbados fullness,” Akin says. “There’s a little bit of pot still, a little bit of body, to round out those edges.” Akin suggests brands such as Banks 5 Island for a Daiquiri rum, and notes that Plantation Three Star is itself a blend of rums from different islands—“so you get some of those nice characteristics in one bottle,” she says.
When opening the Cuban-inspired BlackTail in New York City in 2016, it was clear that the Daiquiri needed careful consideration. “The Daiquiri is a bartender’s test—when you visit a bar, can they balance three ingredients properly?” says Jesse Vida, BlackTail’s bar manager. For BlackTail’s house Daiquiri, the bar needed a style of rum that didn’t commercially exist, so they created their own blend using four distinctive rums: a mixture of four parts Caña Brava, three parts Plantation Three Star, two parts Barbancourt white rum from Haiti, and 1 part El Dorado 3 Year Old white rum from Guyana.
“We were really just trying to put together the perfect balance for a Daiquiri,” Vida says. “There are richer styles of white rum, and there are rums that have a little sugar added. We want a drier, bolder rum for the backbone, but you don’t want the Daiquiri to be too dry, or too boozy. And the other rums we add are for a little funkiness, and slight flavor variances. The rum doesn’t exist on the market yet that has the exact flavor profile for the perfect Daiquiri, as compared to what we’ve put together.”
For making Daiquiris at home, Vida recommends Plantation Three Star and Caña Brava, which are now standard-issue Daiquiri rums, and he also likes Casa Magdalena, a newer rum from Guatemala that’s been aged in Portland, Oregon by House Spirits Distillery, and the Haitian style of rum called clarin, that’s also relatively new to the U.S. market. And for those desiring to take the deep dive, there’s always the BlackTail house blend. “We have people who come in and say they’ve bought all four bottles, which is admirable,” he laughs.
For more Daiquiri variations, check out our roundup here.