Imagine you’re a bartender interviewing for a gig at a prestigious cocktail bar. The manager will ask you to make a few drinks so they can test your abilities, and one of those drinks will likely be a Daiquiri. Here’s a hint: If you reach for the blender, you've already failed.
Bar managers from here to the Caribbean swear by the Daiquiri, made the classic way, as a go-to test cocktail. But they're not the only ones who can use it to gauge a bartender's skill. If you ever want to know if it's worth laying down serious cash for a couple rounds of cocktails at a bar, order a Daiquiri first to see if the joint is worth its salt. Here’s why the classic is such a good test drink.
A Daiquiri Reveals the Bartender’s Cocktail Knowledge
According to Jim Kearns, owner of The Happiest Hour and Slowly Shirley in New York City, a Daiquiri quickly reveals a bartender’s abilities because it’s so simple. “It’s a basic shaken cocktail good for testing someone’s knowledge and technique,” he says. “It’s simple enough that there’s not much hiding in it. If you know how to build and shake a drink properly, and you understand balance… all of those things come through very clearly, and say a lot about the bartender making the drink and the bar at which the drink is being made."
It Shows the Bartender Knows Classic Cocktails
The Margarita may be the most common citrusy cocktail at the moment, but the Daiquiri has time-tested merit. “The Daiquiri falls into a much, much older classic cocktail [camp] than the Margarita,” says Kenneth McCoy, head bartender and chief creative officer of The Rum House and Ward III in New York. “It’s got history. People like Hemingway drank it, and you’ve even got the Hemingway Daiquiri. It’s got cocktail street cred.” If your bartender has studied the classics enough to turn out a solid Daiq, he probably has a fair grasp of other old school drinks, too.
It Separates the Great Cocktail Bars from the Basic Dives
Some classic cocktails can be just as good at a dive as at a high-end cocktail bar. But if it requires fresh juices, you’re better off ordering a straight pour. “You can make a good Old Fashioned at most bars,” Kearns says. “If the place has sugar packets, you can put a packet in a glass, almost all bars have bitters so you get them to dash some Angostura bitters in there, throw a shot of whiskey on it, and you’re kind of in business.” That’s not true of a Daiquiri, which requires fresh ingredients and a little know-how.
It’s a Safe Order
If you’re fairly sure the bartender has the basic ability to shake a cocktail and there’s fresh lime juice behind the bar, the Daiquiri is actually a safe order. “There’s no chance of getting a bad version of it,” says Nick Bennett, head bartender of New York’s Porchlight. “You’re always going to end up with something you’re going to enjoy. It’s a delicious combination. You’re going to end up with a generally great drink no matter what.”
Bennett says the cocktail’s reliability and ubiquity make it a safe place to start if you’re just getting into rum drinks. “You have that buffer of saying, ‘Oh clearly, already I’m going to enjoy this. Let’s see what else we can do with it,’” he adds. “It takes very little effort to make a good one, it takes a lot of effort to make a great one.”
It’ll Tell You About the Bar as Well as the Bartender
You can only blame a bartender so much for a bad Daiq, Kearns says. If they don’t have good ingredients or tools, they can’t craft a masterpiece. “For a Daiquiri, if the bar doesn’t have good ice, doesn’t make their simple syrup properly, isn’t using fresh juice, doesn’t buy good rum, all of those things are going to come through and stick out like a sore thumb,” he adds. “It might even say more about the bar [than the bartender].”
Bennett agrees, pointing out that you can tell a lot about a bar program from how a bartender makes this one rum drink. “If they use a rich cane syrup, you know they’re doing some really cool things with syrups and they’re really conscious of balancing sweet and sour,” he says, which may indicate that you can safely order highly creative drinks elsewhere on the menu. “If it’s just three-quarters [of an ounce] lime, three-quarters [of an ounce] simple syrup, you know they know their proportions, but overall you’ll be able to get a lot of your classic calls,” he adds. “They’ll have a solid Gold Rush and the Moscow Mules will be very good, but you may not be able to get something with some fancy syrups and emulsifications.”
It Allows the Bartender to Show Off a Bit
Walk into a bar and order a Martini, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to get a tried and true classic. Without any context, a bartender probably won’t stray far from the essential recipe. But with a Daiquiri, they can really show off. “You have a lot of room for growth with something like a Daiquiri versus something like a Martini,” Bennett says. “There are entire theological conversations behind the Martini, but a Daiquiri allows you a lot of room to be inventive. It allows you to mess around with different proportions and different rums. [The bartender] can make something really interesting, original and personable, while also making something he knows everyone is going to enjoy one way or another. No one’s going to be like, ‘That’s not a Daiquiri!’ if you’re using a Jamaican rum as opposed to a dry rum, whereas someone will be like, ‘That’s not a Martini,’ if you sub in blanc vermouth over dry vermouth, or if you use vodka instead of gin.”
Bartenders Love Them
Bennett adds that the playfulness and malleability of a Daiquiri have utterly endeared it to bartenders. “The Daiquiri is the bartender’s favorite drink, so much so that bartenders hand out Snaiquiris [to others in the industry],” he says. If you start with a Daiquiri, not only will you get a wonderful drink more often than not, but you’ll probably win over the bartender for the rest of the night.