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Vintage Cocktail History: Cuba, Hemingway, and the Daiquiri

Vintage Cocktail History: Cuba, Hemingway, and the Daiquiri

The Daiquiri

Hear the name "Daiquiri" and visions of warm, sunny beaches and frosty, rum beverages enter your mind. Surprisingly, such conjurings were not so common a century ago. The Daiquiri was born in Cuba as a chilled drink served "straight up". No shaved ice or daintiness, the Daiquiri started as a STRONG drink that by the 1980s had transformed into an adult snow cone mixed with barely fresh ingredients and served, well honestly, ALL WRONG.

The Beginning

Daiquiri's are one of the few cocktails whose origins are certain, not clouded in mystery or myth. During the Spanish-American War, US soldiers stormed southeastern Cuba near the small town of Daiquiri. When all was said and done America sent engineers to Cuba to explore the possibility of exploiting the country's iron-ore mines.

At the turn of the 19th century, an engineer, Jennings Stockton Cox, was a member of the first exploratory team. During this time Americans preferred Gin and/or Whiskey which was distilled in the states. Cox negotiated a monthly ration of the readily available local white Rum, Bacardi Carta Blanca, but still kept a personal stash of gin when possible. 

Legend has it that Cox started to experiment with his rum ration after noticing locals mixing it into their afternoon coffee. When another engineer, Pagliuchi, met with Cox, who was out of Gin,  the men mixed a drink with the ingredients they had available: 

  • Rum 
  • Sugar
  • Limes

This was NOT the first time Rum was mixed with lime. The Royal Navy had been drinking a similar mixture, Grog, to prevent scurvy for centuries. The history of Grog and scurvy is a story all its' own and can be read in its entirety on our vintage cocktail history blog.

According to the personal diary of Cox, 

"Put all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake well. Do not strain as the glass may be served with some ice"

Original Daiquiri recipe by Mr. Cox


Image-Jennings Cox-founder of the Daiquiri

The Daiquiri in America

United States Admiral, Lucius Johnson, brought the drink to Washington, DC when he asked a bartender at the Army and Navy Club to make him one. At this time the drink was somewhat strong and served straight up without straining "as the glass may be served with some ice" that offers a bit of dilution to the otherwise strong concoction.

The Army and Navy Club proudly proclaims they were the first establishment in America to serve a Daiquiri and engraved such on a plaque hanging in the aptly named Daiquiri Lounge.

The Frozen Daiquiri and Hemingway

Oddly enough, one must travel BACK to Cuba to trace the lineage of the frozen Daiquiri. In the 1930s, FDR enacted the "good neighbor" policy to encourage trade with Latin America and help stimulate America's weak economy. Ironically, the policy coincided with a dry America so if one had the money and means, they could travel a short 100 miles to Cuba where cocktails were legal and plentiful.

Bronze statue of Hemingway at Floridita

* Bronze statue of Hemingway at the Floridita

Renowned writer, Ernest Hemingway, was one such American. While staying in Cuba he visited the Floridita bar owned and tended by Constantino Ribalaigua Vert. After trying the Daiquiri, Hemingway is said to have ordered another with,

"double the Rum and no sugar"

a few more tweaks by "the Cuban King of Cocktails"...... and the frozen Daiquiri was born.

Constantino bartender at Floridita

Above: Constantino with Daiquiri's in hand

Below: Exterior of Floridita in Cuba

Image-Floridita Bar-Cuba

Below: Daiquiri's at Floridita

Image-classic Daiquiri cocktails on the bar at Floridita Bar in Cuba

John F. Kennedy

JFK was known to enjoy a Daiquiri every now and then but preferred Heineken (a costly import in the sixties). Rumor has it that JFK was sipping a Daiquiri when he discovered his election win. If so, wouldn't that be an iconic 1960s image? 

Visit the JFK LIBRARY for more presidential info and images.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy campaign poster JFK and Jackie dressed for the evening

Above: JFK campaign poster (bottom) JFK and the First Lady (top) image credit


References: A complete list of ALL references for this post can be found by visiting our Cuba-Daiquiri References page

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  • Jennifer Benson
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