The Daiquiri is one of those terrific drinks that happened by accident. Around the turn of the twentieth century an American engineer named Cox, working in the small town of Daiquiri in Puerto Rico, was entertaining some American visitors. He was about to whip up some drinks but realized he was out of gin.
Cox had some rum but figured the Americans wouldn’t like it, so he doctored it up by adding lime juice from the trees in his yard and a little sugar. The Americans loved it.
Oddly, Cox never gave the drink a name, but eventually the twentieth century’s most influential bartender, Constante Ribalaigua Vert, who presided at the famous El Floridita Bar in Havana, perfected the drink and called it the “Daiquiri.” Like so many classic cocktails, its ingredients are few and simple: white rum, lime juice and sugar, mixed to your taste.
Known as “El Rey de los Coteleros,” the King of the Cocktails, Ribalaigua had made the Floridita so successful, and himself so rich, that he bought the bar and continued to preside over it for three decades, becoming internationally famous. Prohibition in America may have been a disaster for Americans, but it was a godsend for Constante Ribalaigua.
One day in the 1930s Ernest Hemingway walked into the Floridita to use the bathroom and overheard people talking about how good the “Daiquiris” were. Always curious about booze, Hemingway ordered one. “Not bad!” he said, “But it would be better with more rum and less sugar.”
Ribalaigua promptly created what he called the Papa Doble – “Papa” for Hemingway, with his grandfatherly gray beard, and “doble” because it contained twice the rum of a regular Daiquiri. Hemingway liked the Papa Doble so much that – legend has it – one afternoon he downed seventeen of them. And since they were “dobles,” that was the equivalent of thirty-four regular Daiquiris.
I don’t happen to believe that story because I’ve tried on several occasions and can never get past about twelve dobles.
The classic cocktails
This entry is mainly for my younger readers, who are probably still knocking back Jägermeisters and ordering frozen margaritas flavored with granola. Well, okay, we were all young and dumb once, but eventually we need to put away childish things.
And when we do we need to master the “classics,” those cocktails that, by virtue of their staying power over many years and the consensus of opinion of millions of drinkers all over the world, have made it to the top of the rankings. Like fine wines, many of the classics are an acquired taste, but they are tastes well worth acquiring.
What makes a cocktail a classic? TOCSC suggests these four elements:
The drink needs to be familiar enough that “average customers” will order it even when it’s not on the drinks menu.
Virtually all bartenders know how to make it.
Its ingredients aren’t so exotic that many bars won’t have them in stock.
It should be delicious.
I couldn’t agree more, but would also add “staying power.” There have been lots of cocktails that met these four criteria and that had their fifteen minutes of fame, never to be heard from again. To be a true classic, a cocktail needs to please at least three or four generations of drinkers.
But even with these simple characteristics, otherwise sensible people often get it wrong, wrong, wrong. TOCSC reproduces a photograph of “classic” cocktails that appeared in 1948 – there are twenty-five of them! Many of those twenty-five have long been forgotten – so much for them being classics – and even in 1948 a great many of the drinks wouldn’t have met our four-or-five criteria.
To settle the debate for all time I hereby rank the classics in order of my personal preference, which of course is decisive. I also break the drinks down into the True Classics – about which I will brook no debate – and the Near Classics, which would be True Classics except for one, or sometimes two, deficiencies.
The true classics aren’t your father’s cocktail. They’re not even your grandfather’s cocktail. They are your great-grandfather and great-grandmother’s cocktail, and they should be yours as well.
Here are the True Classics:
The martini is the only American invention that’s as perfect as a sonnet. H.L. Mencken
This cocktail is so iconic that thousands of bars all over the world advertise themselves by nothing more than a neon martini glass above the door, often with a neon olive at the bottom. The drink consists of a mere two ingredients, gin and dry vermouth, in relative proportions that have changed over the years, much to the disadvantage of the vermouth.
Public tastes leaned sweeter in the old days, when the martini recipe called for equal parts gin and vermouth. But if a bartender served that drink today litigation would result. Most sophisticated drinkers want their martinis made with a gin-to-vermouth ratio of at least 6-to-1, and frequently 9-to-1.
There are even people who insist that the bartender merely think about the vermouth without actually pouring any of it into the glass. But in fact a martini without vermouth is just a glass of gin. So I recommend starting with the most amount of vermouth you can stomach and then reducing it until the taste is perfect. (And by the way, vermouth is a fortified wine, not a liquor – it oxidizes quickly if not refrigerated.)
There are, unfortunately, a lot of horror stories associated with the martini. There is, for example, the “vodka” martini, which is to the real martini what the mud wasp is to Scarlett Johansson. There is also the hilariously-named “perfect” martini, which includes equal parts of dry (okay) and sweet (barf) vermouth.
There is the chocolate martini (which is for people under the age of 12), the dirty martini (which is like dumping brackish water in your drink), the Vesper Martini (which is used in many countries as an emetic), the Gibson (actually, this one is okay as it’s simply a martini garnished with a small onion instead of an olive or lemon peel), the Appletini (which will consign you to Hell if you take even one sip), and so on and so on.
And then we come to James Bond.
Next up: The Oxford Companion, Part 6
[To subscribe or unsubscribe, drop me a note at GregoryCurtisBlog@gmail.com.]
Please note that this post is intended to provide interested persons with an insight on the capital markets and other matters and is not intended to promote any manager or firm, nor does it intend to advertise their performance. All opinions expressed are those of Gregory Curtis and do not necessarily represent the views of Greycourt & Co., Inc., the wealth management firm with which he is associated. The information in this report is not intended to address the needs of any particular investor.