What is a Daiquiri? Some say it’s a blended drink that comes in a rainbow of flavors. Others say it’s a simple, three-ingredient cocktail made with lime, rum and sugar. The answer is: It’s both. But for our purposes, when we say “Daiquiri,” we’re talking about the three-ingredient cocktail. Even within that seemingly simple definition, though, there are many ways to make a Daiquiri. To find out how to make the best one, we tapped two experts: Erbin Garcia, beverage director at the Caña Rum Bar in Los Angeles, and Dan Perzan, beverage director at Barrelhouse Flat in Chicago. Unsurprisingly, considering just how subjective a great Daiquiri can be, the two pros split on many aspects.
The Daiquiris that Garcia and Perzan serve at their bars are two completely different cocktails. Although Garcia’s Daiquiri at Caña Rum Bar essentially follows the classic recipe, he adds a bar spoon of Maraschino liqueur and serves the drink over crushed ice, rather than up in a coupe glass. “We actually have a lot of bartenders that frown upon [the way we serve] our Daiquiri,” he says. “But we’ve done our research. We’ve traveled to Cuba and different islands in the Caribbean. What we found was a lot of frappé-style Daiquiris. If a bartender asks why we are serving the cocktail over crushed ice, we tell them that this is the style we like and this is what we think a well-made Daiquiri tastes like.”
Perzan is more of a Daiquiri purist. While he’s open to trying just about any Daiquiri put in front of him, he feels the drink is best in its classic form—and is especially adamant against artificial ingredients or fruit purees in the cocktail. “Don’t put a bunch of fruit into it and call it a Daiquiri,” he says. “A Daiquiri doesn't need any of that sh*t to be good. Get a decent bottle of rum—let the rum shine—squeeze a couple of limes, take a minute to make a simple [syrup], and you have a Daiquiri. Anything else just becomes confusing.” Here, the two men reveal their tips and tricks for making their version of a great Daiquiri. Try both methods, and decide for yourself.
For a clean, streamlined flavor—and maximum drinkability—both Garcia and Perzan use white rum in their Daiquiri. But each bartender has their own prefered brand. “Right now, my go-to rum is the Real McCoy 3-Year rum,” Garcia says. “When you think of a classic Daiquiri, you think Cuba, and dry rums like Havana Club or Bacardi. The Real McCoy is a blend of pot and column still rums, and there’s no additives or colorings. It’s the perfect rum for a Daiquiri.”
Perzan’s prefered white rum is Denizen’s 3-Year. “Short aged, silver rums [like Denizen 3-Year] let the citrus and sugar come through and balance the drink,” he says. “It creates a clean, classic tasting Daiquiri.”
For a funkier Daiquiri, Perzan likes to use a split base of Smith & Cross and Wray & Nephew, both of which are overproof Jamaican rums. “It makes a banana-forward Daiquiri with tons of fruit flavors,” he says. “Just reduce the measure from an ounce each to three quarters of an ounce each so you don’t get sloshed too fast.”
Both bartenders agree that sour mix shouldn’t be used in any cocktail—especially drinks that are meant to be as refreshing and quaffable as the Daiquiri. While both concur that hand-squeezing limes to order is unnecessary, Perzan argues that you should never use juice that is more than 48 hours old. “Lime juice that’s a day old is still pretty fresh and produces a solid Daiquiri,” he says. “But once it hits the three or even four day mark, the acid in the juice starts to eat itself. It becomes flat and kind of weird tasting.”
The sweetener that you use significantly alters the flavor of your Daiquiri. And while you can use different sugars to achieve different flavor profiles, Perzan argues that the syrup should complement the other ingredients in the cocktail. “Demerara [syrup] has a big, malty, caramel body to it, which works great with dark rums but not lighter ones,” he says. “And cane sugar is great with rhum agricole because they share a lot of the same flavors. For a classic Daiquiri, a basic simple syrup is the easiest—and best—way to go.”
Garcia prefers to use a syrup with more body and flavor. “We like the buttery notes you get from using a raw sugar or demerara sugar,” he says. “It pairs perfectly with the rum that we use.”
A Daiquiri should be ice cold with a thick foamy cap on top of the drink. “I shake quickly and aggressively,” Perzan says. “You really want to aerate your citrus. If you pour that Daiquiri into the glass and it isn’t cloudy with a frothy head, you didn’t shake it hard enough.” While Garcia agrees with Perzan on his shaking technique for a classic Daiquiri, he employs a whip shake on his Daiquiri (a shaking style in which you quickly shake the shaker in a figure eight pattern rather than straight up and down). “Once we put it over crushed ice it’s going to dilute more—so it’s not necessary to do anything more than a quick whip shake with a couple of Kold-Draft cubes.”
Perzan believes that garnishing a Daiquiri with a lime wedge or something like a paper umbrella is completely unnecessary. “Coming from a culinary background, I always ask myself two things when considering a garnish: Does it really need to be there, and can you eat it?” he says. “You’re not going to eat a lime and a Daiquiri doesn’t need [citrus] oil in the way an Old Fashioned does. Lime oil can be astringent and actually make the drink less refreshing.”
Garcia also eschews garnishes like lime wheels or edible orchids, but he does add a hefty dash of Angostura bitters to top off the cocktail. It gives the drink a subtle baking spice note and helps dry it out. “It also brings out the Maraschino in the cocktail,” he says.
Perzan is skeptical of Garcia’s choice, but intrigued. “Knowing what Angostura tastes like, I would be kind of weirded out if that was in my Daiquiri,” he says. “Here’s this light, refreshing, citrus forward cocktail with these notes of anise and cinnamon just punching you in the mouth. I’d try it, though.”