Friday, May 20, 2011

Exhibit #64: Tiki and the Daiquiri

On previous Sundays we've examined a bit of Tiki's ancestry, both distant and closer relations such as the Knickerbocker, Singapore Sling, or Suffering Bastard. Tonight we aim for ground zero: The Daiquiri. It's fair enough to say it is the foundation upon which most tiki drinks have been built; to wit, rum, lime juice and sugar. Variations, substitutions and elaborations on this basic template have been fertile soil.

The Original Daiquiri $7
As it was In The Beginning, much more tart than sweet: light cuban-style rum, lime juice, a little sugar, and cracked ice. Unlike many other cocktails, the origin of this drink is fairly well-documented. It was created by Harry Stout and Jennings Cox, a pair of American mining engineers in the employ of Bethlehem Steel who were stationed at a mine near the village of Daiquiri in Cuba, at the tail end of the 19th century following the Spanish-American War. The mining crews were suffering from bad drinking water, and with the original Bacardi plant being just down the road it was a fairly quick leap to consider adding rum to the water to disinfect it. This being barely palatable, Stout & Cox added some lime juice and a bit of sugar, and not long after the mixture was cocktail-ized at local watering holes and the drink began its march around the globe.

La Florida Cocktail $8
Light Cuban-style rum, lime juice, red vermouth, orange curacao, creme de cacao, and grenadine, up. Of course Cuba wasn't all swampy backwaters - in Santiago and La Habana there were plenty of first,class "American bars" that served all the cocktails of the day, most notably Bar La Florida and its head bartender Constantine Ribailagua, who worked the mahogany for a good 40 years until his death in 1952. Constantine had a reputation for the finest Daiquiris on the island and counted Ernest Hemingway and other high-rollers among his regulars. As one might guess, La Florida was a signature drink for both Constantine and the house, and it is testament to Constantine's top-shelf skills, as the drink's tart and tightly woven flavors are not what one would expect from the list of ingredients. Besides the tiki connection noted above, I should point out that a certain Victor Bergeron spent a week or so studying Constantine in the 1930s. This same gentleman started the Trader Vic's empire, inventing many new dishes and drinks through his career, most notably Crab Rangoon, the Mai Tai, and the Scorpion Bowl. But he served Constantine’s La Florida Cocktail in his restaurants for a good decade or two, and eventually used its ingredient profile as the basis for his Tortuga.

Beachcomber’s Gold $8
A mix of gold Cuban-style rum with smaller amounts of dark Cuban and Jamaican rums, lime juice, sugar, and spiced with a little Pernod and almond extract. Donn Beach, to my palate, was not just the first, but the most consistently creative and visionary of the tiki progenitors. The Beachcomber's Gold is a Daiquiri, but the layering of rum flavors with notes of anise and almond provide the otherworldly, exotic touch that is the hallmark of Donn's drinks.

Royal Daiquiri $7
Light Cuban-style rum, lime juice, and Parfait Amour, up. (Parfait Amour is a French curacao-based liqueur flavored with rose petals, vanilla and almonds) This drink is another Donn Beach creation, though certainly lesser-known and much less involved than most of his ouvre. The name most likely refers to the slight purple hue of the drink. ('royal purple')

Jasper’s Jamaican Daiquiri $7

Golden Jamaican rum, lime juice and allspice dram, up with grated nutmeg for garnish. A creation of Jasper LeFranc, a Jamaican bartender of the 60s and 70s. This drink utilizes the sweet and aromatic qualities of allspice dram in place of sugar and finishes with freshly grated nutmeg, the preferred garnish of the 18th century and earlier. Savory.

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