Friday, June 15, 2012

Cocktail of the Week: The Hemingway Daiquiri, aka The Papa Doble

Let it be known that daiquiris existed before Ernest Hemingway put them on the map, and that they were good. With a recipe that simple – rum, lime, sugar – how could they not be? Charles H. Baker, Jr. claimed in The Gentleman’s Companion that the cocktail was cooked up in 1898 by mining engineers working in Cuba in order to stave off infection, alcohol being a potent disinfectant, lime needed to take the edge off the rum, sugar required to cut the lime. (I can only hope these engineers received copious amounts of grant money for their efforts and were shortlisted for the Nobel.) David Embury, the authority’s authority, wrote in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks that “this is a cocktail that is difficult to improve upon,” calling it “vastly superior ... to the Manhattan.” To which I say: hold the fucking phone, Dave.

But it’s Hemingway who popularized the drink. Legend has it that he ducked into Havana’s La Florida, known colloquially as the Floridita, to use the facilities. Presiding bartender and local legend Constante Ribalaigua Vert prevailed upon the writer to try his Daiquiri #3. Hemingway did, offering his praises along with the caveat that he preferred his without sugar – and with double rum. That version soon appeared on menus.

Ribalaigua elevated the standard recipe by adding grapefruit juice and maraschino, the liqueur made from Marasca cherries. A few drops of the latter provided a note of sustained, smoky sweetness that was enough for Papa, who was diabetic. He also didn’t want to slow his consumption; referring to his heroic intake, he said, “if you drank that many with sugar it would make you sick.” Hem also liked that his formula “had no taste of alcohol.” According to cocktail writer Eric Felten, in the daiquiris Hemingway downed “flavor gets snowed under by the mounds of shaved ice.”

You should know that I’m not making the Hemingway Daiquiri in Hemingway style. I don’t want mounds of shaved ice. I prefer a clean glass and concentrated spirits. And the fact remains that a traditional daiquiri has sugar. As Dale DeGroff notes in The Craft of the Cocktail, “You can be sure that for the average customer at the Floridita, the Simple Syrup was part of the recipe.” The problem is that there are too many conflicting recipes. Particularly vexing is the question of restoring the sweetener. Papa liked his daiquiris with a lot of lime, so do you scale that back or add more Simple? How do you then balance the other elements? And let’s leave aside the fact that Hemingway was enjoying his drinks with authentic Cuban rum.

I’ve taken a Gordian Knot approach to the conundrum. The recipe below is the result. I like it enormously. Hemingway wouldn’t. There’s too much sugar and there ain’t enough rum. But we could still while away a scorching afternoon in Havana, each enjoying our own rendition of the drink. Isn’t it pretty to think so?

The Hemingway Daiquiri, aka The Papa Doble

1 ½ oz. rum
¾ oz. lime juice
½ oz. grapefruit juice
½ oz. maraschino
½ oz. simple syrup

Shake. Strain. Garnish with a lime wheel (not pictured; I needed all the limes).