American businessmen, sailors and congressmen are all rumored to have brought the daiquiri to Americans’ attention. While the cocktail’s origins aren’t exactly as clear as ice, the most intriguing theory about how this Cuban import came stateside can be traced to Washington, D.C.
Here’s the story, as chronicled by famed cocktail historian and writer Tom Sandham: In 1896, an American businessman named Jennings Stockton Cox Jr. was working in the Cuban mining town of Daiquiri. Taking a cue from locals who drank canchancharas — a drink of rum, lime and molasses — to keep cool, Cox created his own libation: the daiquiri. The drink stayed local until 1909, when Lucius Johnson, a U.S. Navy medical officer on assignment in Cuba, introduced his compatriots to the beverage when he returned to D.C.
“It began being made at the Army and Navy Club right here in the city,” says Julia Hurst, the former bar director at Hogo, a now-defunct tiki bar in Shaw.
According to the 1935 edition of Bar la Florida Cocktails, the classic daiquiri, Daiquiri No. 1, is made with 2 ounces of white rum, one teaspoon of sugar and the juice of half a lime, all shaken with ice and strained into a glass. “It’s a natural product of things growing together and tasting great when combined,” Hurst says. “There are very few things that contain only three ingredients and are perfectly balanced. A daiquiri is one of them.”
How, then, did the daiquiri go from that simple classic to the bastardized frozen swirl we know today? You can thank the blender for that.
The Waring blender, the first modern electric blender on the market, made its way to Cuba in the late 1930s. Bartenders now had a way to make more drinks at a faster pace, which brought the frozen daiquiri into prominence.
Then, “corporations started making strange flavors,” says Adam Bernbach, the bar director of 2 Birds 1 Stone. “A beautiful daiquiri slushy went from there into something that involved corn syrup.”
With so many different variations, how can anyone identify a quality daiquiri? “It’s all about good technique,” says Devin Gong, the owner of Copycat Co. bar on H Street NE. “You’ve got to make sure you strain it as fast as you can when done shaking. Straining it quickly makes sure it doesn’t become diluted by melting ice.”
Here are a few places where you can grab a glass and honor D.C.’s role in the drink’s origin story:
Now through Sunday, Copycat Co. is serving a daiquiri-centric menu with more than 40 variations of the drink. We suggest the half pina colada, half frozen daiquiri version that is blended to order. $11; 1110 H St. NE
2 Birds 1 Stone
Bar director Adam Bernbach sticks to the classic, blending white rum with lime juice and raw white sugar for his Daiquiri #1 drink. $12; 1800 14th St. NW, lower level
Residents of Columbia Heights perch at this bar for The B Word, a spin on the classic that uses aged rum, falernum (a traditional Caribbean cordial mixture of sugar and spices) and Becherovka (an herbal spiced liqueur from the Czech Republic), lending the drink a slightly spicy flavor. $12; 3234 11th St. NW