Frozen Daiquiri

1 May. 2019
Blended delights

When cocktails got trendy again, bartenders focused on handcrafted drinks and favoured stirred and shaken cocktails. Along with countless neon-coloured formulas, the blender — a machine! — was out. So the natural, shaken Daiquiri became a bartender handshake and the frozen Daiquiri, for decades the only Daiquiri you’d find, was banished from many serious bars. But blended drinks are not only fun, they can also be delicious. And so now that bartenders have gone over their serious phase and want some fun and tasty serves, well, the Frozen Daiquiri is making a comeback. 

The Daiquiri Frappé, as it is known in Cuba, first appeared in print in the 1930 Manual del Cantinero. Blended cocktails were an innovation at the time — Waring, the brand that made blenders widely available, didn’t launch their first model until 1937. If Cuban cantineros became pioneers in this field, it’s because early versions of the blender had found popularity on the island thanks to their capacity to reduce to a pulp some of the most fibrous Caribbean fruits. Cubans were fond of juices for breakfast and the device helped them tremendously. From there, applying the technology to cocktails was not a stretch — and, as they soon found out, it gave the Daiquiri a slushy texture ideal for a tropical climate and ready-made for a people in love with ice-cream.

The master of the Frappé was of course Constante Ribalaigua. At Floridita, he understood perfectly that to keep the drink balanced he’d have to add more sugar and round it out with a liqueur — maraschino. Because the blender is less spectacular than the shake or the throw, Constante and his team introduced some flair, hand squeezing the lime above the blender in an elegant gesture. People would come to the bar just to see him do it. It was said he looked like a conductor. The Daiquiri #4, as he would call his version, became the bar’s signature drink. It helped propel both the Frozen Daiquiri and the Floridita to worldwide fame.

After World War II, the Frozen Daiquiri became an icon of the tropics. Beach resorts all over the world had blenders ready for when tourists came pouring in. Many came up with fruit variants — the Strawberry Daiquiri being of course the most famous one. Unfortunately, not everyone is Constante. Increased popularity also meant lesser quality. And the demand of mass consumption meant that many operators took shortcuts, using artificial fruit purées and lower quality rums. By the 1990’s, the Frozen Daiquiris were still among the world’s best selling cocktails, but they were increasingly seen as cheap, sweet drinks unworthy of our attention.

At Floridita, meanwhile, the Frozen Daiquiri is still seen as an art form. And although the staff there has to blend hundreds of them every day for the tourists, no one is jaded. Head bartender Alejandro Bolivar insists on following Constante’s precepts, as he recently told us. The rum is poured over the rest of the ingredients while the blender’s blades are already spinning. It is done gradually so the Daiquiri literally takes shape under your eyes: « We’re listening to the sound it makes and we hear when the Daiquiri is just right. The blender also gives us visual cues: as the blades rotate, you can see a small hole in the liquid, and when it’s a certain size we know it’s good ». Once served, it needs to have the texture of the smoothest snow. Or, as the one and only Hemingway put it much more eloquently in ‘The Old Man and the Sea’, the perfect Frozen Daiquiri « looks like the sea where waves fall away from the bow of a ship when she’s doing thirty knots »

Many bartenders have come to Floridita and those who have paid attention to the way the cantineros use the blenders come back home with more respect for the Frozen drinks. This is for example the case of the team at New Orleans’ Manolito. Theirs is a city with a deep passion for the slushy Daiquiri of very low quality — armed with the knowledge acquired in Cuba, they set out to correct this. Their idiosyncratic versions — the Mint Daiquiri or the Jazz (coffee) Daiquiri — are small miracles. In Cuba itself, new bars and paladares are taking the Floridita formula and adapting it to new consumers. The Mango Daiquiri at O’Reilly’s is a sight to behold. 

Those are only two examples of the resurgence of the frozen Daiquiri. They demonstrate how great and unpretentious this drink can be, if made with proper technique and quality ingredients.  Applying craft knowledge to popular forms of drinking is an important factor in today’s bars. Rest assured that you’ll see quite a lot of Frozen Daiquiris in the coming months, once the weather warms. And do yourself a favour: don’t just look at them — drink them.

François Monti