The Negroni was a fairly obscure cocktail as little as 10 years ago, familiar only to bartenders and dedicated Italophiles. Then more and more industry folks started falling for it, citing its versatility and relatively foolproof rubric.
By 2013, Negronis were a national obsession. Their mainstream popularity launched an annual Negroni Week and countless culinary spinoffs.
The next cocktail poised to spread from bartenders to the masses is the Daiquiri. Made with just two ounces of light rum, an ounce of fresh lime, and a half-ounce of simple syrup, the drink is a relatively straightforward affair — and that’s a large part of its appeal. Bar professionals across the country are embracing this classic combination of sweet and sour ingredients, riffing on them at their own establishments and ordering the drink after-hours.
“Bartenders love the Daiquiri for its representation of delicate simplicity, and obviously because it’s a damn tasty cocktail,” says Jesse Vida, mixologist at NYC’s BlackTail, an award-winning destination inspired by American bars in Cuba from the 1920s to 1950s.
The Daiquiri started in and is named for a mining town in 1898 Cuba. Unlike the Negroni, whose origin is similarly dated, Daiquiris face certain challenges to their 21st-century rebirth.
Throughout the 20th century, the blender-drinks era denigrated its reputation. The most well-known Daiquiri to those outside the cocktail world was the frozen strawberry Daiquiri.
Now there is increased demand to re-embrace classic cocktails and ingredients of yesteryear. Bars like BlackTail and The Library of Distilled Spirits in New York, and Rosina in Las Vegas, are highlighting Daiquiris in both their classic form and with new flavor infusions. Smuggler’s Cove, a destination tiki den in San Francisco, serves a riff made with overproof rum, lime, and jerk-spiced simple syrup.
Part of what makes the Daiquiri so special is its simplicity. Many drinks professionals believe the execution of a Daiquiri demonstrates a bar’s expertise.
“The simplest cocktails are always the best indicators of a bar’s quality,” Eben Klemm, beverage consultant for Loews Hotels, says. “With just three ingredients — rum (usually a white one), lime, and sugar, so simple ones at that — there’s only nuance and attention to quality. There’s no hiding behind flamboyance.”
Shawn Chen, of New York’s RedFarm, adds: “I believe a good classic Daiquiri is an indicator of a good bar menu because it is such a classic combination of flavors. It sounds simple, but it is very easy to mess up. A bar that can balance the basic elements of bitter, sour, sweet, and liquor in a cocktail is definitely a bar that holds their staff to consistent and high standards.”
Whereas Negronis are considered pretty “tough to mess up,” according to the bartenders who favored them, Daiquiris are the drinkable equivalent of a caprese salad: The recipe rubric is so simple that the ingredients need to be good. And, of course, the hands that make the cocktail need to ensure it is cared for.
“These simple ingredients and criteria mean that just about any bar that cares about the product it puts out is capable of making a great Daiquiri,” Jim Kearns, partner and beverage director of NYC’s Happiest Hour, says.
“I order it because it’s crisp and flavorful and I’m not putting another bartender out too much by ordering it,” Jeff Cleveland, Novo Fogo’s mixologist, says. “You can also see if they put care and attention to detail in this simple, three-ingredient drink. I’m really looking for them to show as much enthusiasm for the Daiquiri as their favorite signature drink.”
Bartenders, too, turn to the cocktail when they are looking for an off-hours beverage. It’s refreshing and palate-cleansing, making it a great start to a meal or flexible companion to other cocktails.
“I think bartenders love the Daiquiri because it is such an easy-drinking cocktail,” Chen says. “I think a classic Daiquiri is like a great appetizer to a meal; it opens up your palate for the dishes that follow. I think a Daiquiri really sets the mood for the rest of the meal. “
Like Margaritas, Martinis, Negronis, and other classic cocktails, Daiquiris are incredibly customizable. The rubric is straightforward enough to allow bartenders to swap out spirits or incorporate new flavors without compromising the integrity of the drink.
“The Daiquiri, I think, is a paradox. A simple yet complex drink, with a precise recipe that can give you a lot of freedom at the same time,” Roxana Pavel, manager of the Watertable at Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa, says.
The complexity of rum as a category also plays a part.
“There are many brands around the world that distill rum with different ingredients, like blackstrap molasses to sugar cane juice,” says Evan Hosaka, lead bartender at Rosina in Las Vegas. “The type of rum used in a Daiquiri is a great way to create different twists on this classic cocktail. You can also switch out the simple syrup for nearly any other modifier and again create many different variations.”
Ultimately, Daiquiris represent the paradoxical nature of modern mixology. As the industry continues to advance and evolve, we are eager to the return to classics and modernize them with elevated ingredients and sophisticated flavors. It’s precisely because the Daiquiri is timeless that it feels so thoroughly of the moment.