Cocktail Queries is a Paste series that examines and answers basic, common questions that drinkers may have about mixed drinks, cocktails and spirits. Check out every entry in the series to date.
We’ve covered a lot of ground in our Cocktail Queries series in the last few years at Paste, answering commonly asked questions about making home cocktails, as well as diving deep into individual spirits to explore topics like the best bourbon under $30, or defining the house styles of iconic Kentucky whiskey distilleries. Now, we’re drilling down on the “cocktail” in the title with this subseries on individual, classic cocktails, in order to answer the question of what makes for a great example of one of these drinks. What’s the key to a great old fashioned, for instance? A great Manhattan? A great daiquiri? A great negroni? We’ll explore them all, and then some.
Our first few entries in this series all focused on whiskey cocktails, but now it’s time to switch gears to a spirit that is near and dear to my heart: Rum. And if you’re going to be drinking a proper rum cocktail for the first time in your life, it could scarcely be anything but a delicious, refreshing daiquiri. This drink is a testament to simplicity, achieved through quality ingredients, careful attention to detail (especially when it comes to ratios), and understanding of a few basic techniques. Everything you learn in making a great daiquiri will also be extremely useful in mixing just about any other cocktail.
The daiquiri is essentially the basic foundation upon which most other tropical, rum-based drinks are based … and yet, it’s also painfully misunderstood by the average consumer. Why? Well, it’s mostly because the “daiquiri” name has been hijacked and co-opted over the years, attached to dozens or hundreds of other drinks that have little in common with a properly made, classic daiquiri. Many are completely jammed with fruit and sugar, seeking to hide the rum behind sweetness. The entire “frozen daiquiri” genre in particular has made many consumers unaware that the classic daiquiri isn’t a frozen or blended drink at all—its preparation actually has more in common with a martini than it does a piña colada.
In truth, the classic daiquiri is defined by the simplicity of its recipe—it is literally just rum, lime and sugar—but that simplicity belies one of the tastiest drinks in existence when they’re all brought together right. So without any further ado, let’s get into it.
Here’s a very basic, very standard daiquiri recipe, but we’ll be explaining in more detail below why you may choose to substitute and tinker with these ingredients and ratios in pursuit of your own perfect daiquiri.
— 2 oz rum (traditionally light rum, or lightly aged)
— 1 oz lime juice (“freshly squeezed,” more on this below)
— .75 oz simple syrup
Combine all three ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake very well (and vigorously) for at least 10-15 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail (martini) glass, optionally straining the drink through a second strainer between the shaker and the glass to catch small ice chips.
That’s the whole, extremely simple process. There are, however, quite a few ways to tweak this structure in terms of your choices of rum, lime, sugar and technique.
Obviously, the daiquiri is a rum drink. You’ll occasionally see some cocktails with base spirits swapped in, such as a “rum old fashioned,” but I can’t think of any time I’ve seen something described as a “daiquiri” without rum—that one is pretty much set in stone.
As for “which rum,” though, that’s a pretty lively debate, depending both on what kinds of flavors you want in your daiquiri, and how intense you want those flavors to be.
A very traditional daiquiri might be made with unaged or lightly aged, light-bodied rums from countries such as Cuba, Puerto Rico or Panama—your Havana Clubs, Bacardi, Cana Brava, etc. These milder and balanced rums tend to produce easy drinking daiquiris that can be dangerously approachable, masking the booze. This is perhaps the most textbook and traditional sort of daiquiri, and if you want your drink to be refreshing above everything else, they’re great choices. Most are lower in ABV, at the standard 40% ABV (80 proof), which unsurprisingly makes lighter flavored daiquiris.
In modern cocktail bars, however, you will increasingly find daiquiris that are made with more assertive and punchy rum, or complex blends of rums. You may find a daiquiri made with the fruity, overripe funk of stronger Jamaican rum (even overproof rums in the 115-151 proof range), or one made with the earthy, funky intensity of rhum agricole from Martinique. Bartenders may also blend rums from many ports together in order to make a specific blend for cocktails such as the daiquiri or mai tai. What this means, of course, is that you have a choice—your daiquiri will ultimately reflect the flavor profile of your chosen rum arena. If you like the bold, funky, fruity flavors of Jamaican rum, they make for a wonderful daiquiri. If you prefer the fresh, grassy, vegetal notes of agricole, they’ll shine through in a daiquiri as well. If you prefer more heavily aged rums, you can also make a delicious daiquiri with one, although it can be a bit harder to find a balance between rum and lime with these.
Likewise, the stronger the rum in your daiquiri, the more of the star of the drink it will be, with all other factors remaining the same. If you wish to avoid this, you can always cut down the rum amount slightly if you’re using a stronger rum or blend of rums.
One of the best ways to decide which kind of daiquiri you prefer? Mix up a handful of them at once, with a variety of different rums, and taste them side by side.
Practically any daiquiri recipe you will ever see will go out of its way to stress that you should be using “freshly squeezed” lime juice, but I will be honest—despite the advantages of freshly squeezed juice, I almost always make these drinks with store-bought lime juice kept in the refrigerator.
There are a couple of reasons for this. For one, the store-bought lime juice is much more consistent—it always tastes the same, and has the same relative level of acidity, which makes it easy to dial it in. Limes that you actually squeeze yourself, on the other hand, will vary greatly in how sweet or sour you perceive them to be. This can be lessened to some degree if you’re juicing many limes together, as a bar would be when preparing its ingredients for the day, but in your own home kitchen you’re unlikely to be juicing more than one or two at a time. This means that if you do happen to have fresh limes on hand, and you want to use them, you simply have to be a bit more careful in confirming that the drink’s level of acidity in particular is correct.
As for how tart a daiquiri should be, the answer is “moderately.” Some home cocktail makers do make the mistake of adding too much lime juice, thinking that it may help smooth down the rougher edges of their rum, but too much lime can make the drink aggressively tart and unpalatable, making it feel caustic on your palate. In general, if the daiquiri is in any way difficult to drink because of the level of tartness, then it’s too acidic. A good daiquiri should be very easy to drink—the only exception is if it’s been made with much stronger rum by someone who wants to make a very potent variation.
Freshly squeezed lime juice is great to have, but we’d never let a lack of it stop us from making daiquiris.
All daiquiris require sugar—don’t go thinking that there’s something wrong about adding sugar to cocktails, because it’s an integral part of practically any rum-based drink. Leaving out the sugar will result in a drink that tastes flat, lifeless and overly tart.
As for how you add the sugar, there’s actually debate about that matter as well. There are some purists out there who will tell you that the daiquiri should only be made with granulated sugar—preferably superfine sugar, which dissolves most easily. These daiquiri purists will argue that granulated sugar ultimately provides a lighter bodied drink, promoting the most drinkable and refreshing daiquiri possible.
In practice, however, most daiquiris are made with simple syrup instead, which is said to offer a slightly more silky and full texture. And indeed, many bartenders and home mixologists (myself included) prefer an even fuller texture for our daiquiris, and specifically go out of our way to seek it. You can do this by using “rich syrup,” which is a more concentrated (and sweeter, obviously) form of simple syrup, or by using gum syrup. Gum syrup is simple syrup that has also been made with gum arabic, a natural emulsifier made from the African acacia tree. It will produce an even more luxuriantly silky texture. Some will say that this results in a daiquiri that is not crisp and refreshing enough, but in my opinion the flavor and texture can’t be beat. Get some gum syrup and try it out for yourself.
Don’t try to convince yourself that you can make a daiquiri recipe without sugar or simple syrup. The results will suck.
Here are some other key things to keep in mind when making a daiquiri, as well as some of the most popular modifications/clones of the drink you’re likely to run into.
— The single biggest debate when it comes to the daiquiri is what ratio one should use of rum/lime juice/sugar. People get very attached to their chosen ratios; this is seriously the stuff of tiki bar brawl legend. Some will advocate for a dry, less tart, spirit-forward daiquiri that is as much as 3 or 4 parts rum to 1 part lime and 1 part sugar. Other ratios will include significantly more lime juice than sugar—something like 3 parts rum, 2 parts lime, 1 part sugar. In general, though, you’ll see ratios that vary hugely in how much rum and lime juice they contain—personally, we are partial to somewhere between 2 and 3 parts rum to 1 part lime, with a similar amount of sugar. The best way to figure out your ideal ratio is once again to make a small lineup of daiquiris—start with one at a 3-1 ratio, and then make a few more that are more lime and sugar forward, and see which one you prefer.
— One topic that doesn’t get mentioned with the daiquiri very often is cocktail bitters, but they can actually make a nice addition as well. In particular, they can help balance the drink if you want a sweeter daiquiri, but also want to add some bitterness and spice notes at the same time. Try adding a couple dashes of Angostura Bitters to the mixing glass before shaking, and see how you like the spice notes in your daiquiri.
— There are many, many drinks out there labeled as “daiquiri,” but as previously mentioned most of the frozen and fruited versions bear little resemblance to the classic cocktail. One of the only variations that captures the spirit of the original daiquiri is the popular Hemingway Daiquiri, also known as the Floridita Daiquiri or the “Papa Doble.” Made to style, the Hemingway Daiquiri is a bit drier than your classic daiquiri because it omits the sugar/simple syrup, instead getting its sweetness from Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, which also contributes some bitterness. The citrus profile, meanwhile, is modified by adding fresh grapefruit juice along with the lime juice. It makes for a very refreshing, fruity, herbaceous but dry cocktail. Try it as written here, and if you think it’s too dry or herbal, add a bit of the simple syrup you would use in the classic daiquiri.
— Please note that the daiquiri is the epitome of the “shaken” cocktail, and should not be made stirred, as this will result in a daiquiri lacking the lighter and frothier texture that is associated with the drink. Check out our guide here to which cocktails should be shaken or stirred.
Once you’ve dialed in your own perfect daiquiri, you’ll be well on your way to making an exciting galaxy of rum-based cocktails. We’ll be back with some of those in the near future, but in the meantime enjoy this classic summer beverage on your back porch and marvel at how delicious three ingredients can be.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.