With the exception of flavored “martinis,” the daiquiri has to be the most abused cocktail of all time. Peruse the menus of mid-level chain restaurants or walk through the streets of any party district, and you’ll find all sorts of violently colored, sweet slushes claiming to be daiquiris.

Cocktail book authors Carey Jones and John McCarthy want you to know the truth about the classic cocktail. They’ll be teaching a cocktail class at Milk Street Cooking School on February 15, where they’ll demonstrate how to make a strawberry daiquiri that’s bright and balanced (along with a few other cocktails). But in the meantime, Carey was kind enough to answer a few questions about the widely misunderstood beverage, and provide a recipe for making a strawberry daiquiri that’s still vibrant and pink, but balanced by an unexpected ingredient.

A classic cocktail with a cloying reputation

We tend to think of the daiquiri as a fruity, tropical beverage with loads of sugar. So how did the drink develop its syrupy-sweet reputation? “Over the 1980s and 1990s, flavored frozen daiquiris became ubiquitous at restaurants and resorts, right along with frozen margaritas,” Carey explained. “Inevitably, these drinks were made with sugar or corn syrup-laden mixes, big on artificial flavor, which leaves a drink far too sweet and cloying. ”

But according to Carey, a real daiquiri should taste “Sharp and to the point, like a splash of cold water to the face on a hot day! The booze of the rum and the tartness of the lime are a perfect one-two punch.” It’s a deceptively simple cocktail with few ingredients. “A classic daiquiri is just three: rum, lime, and sugar, the last in the form of simple syrup.”

In terms of rum, keep it Cuban if possible. “If you can find Havana Club, that's the classic!” she said. “But given that we still don't have normal trade relations with Cuba, you can't legally purchase it in the U.S. We also love Banks 5 Island Rum, Flor de Caña 4 Year Extra Seco, and Brugal Extra Dry.”

And unlike the martini, this is a cocktail that benefits from agitation. “Drinks with citrus are generally shaken,” she explained. “To properly integrate the fruit juice and other elements, and provide a bit of dilution via ice melt.”

Strawberry daiquiris can be balanced

The strawberry daiquiris offered on most restaurant menus are everything a daiquiri shouldn’t be: cloying and watery, with little attention paid to the nuanced flavors of the fruit. “If you're adding a sweet ingredient to a cocktail, even a naturally sweet element like strawberries, you'll need something to balance it out,” explained Carey. “In cocktails, this might be via bitters, more acidity, or an additional element that introduces bitter flavors, such as Campari (recipe below!). If you're using a particularly sweet fruit, you can often pull back on the amount of simple syrup, though you'll still want at least a 1/4 ounce to keep the drink balanced and integrated.” Making your own syrup is easy, Cary uses a “1:1 [ratio of] sugar to hot water, stirred until fully dissolved.”

Scarlet Daiquiri

The adaptable daiquiri takes well to Campari’s sharp bitter bite, which, here, we balance with fresh strawberry. If you like drinks with fruit—but not “fruity drinks”—this is a cocktail for you. Don’t skip the orange garnish; its fresh scent pulls the whole drink together.

  • 1½ ounces white rum
  • ½ ounce Campari
  • ¾ ounce lime juice
  • ¾ ounce simple syrup
  • 1 dash orange bitters
  • 3 strawberries, tops removed and cut into quarters (approx 50 grams), plus additional strawberry to garnish
  • Thin half-moon slice of orange, to garnish

In the bottom of a cocktail shaker, firmly muddle strawberries until broken up and releasing juice. Add all remaining ingredients, as well as ice, and shake vigorously for 10-15 seconds. Double-strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice. Garnish with a strawberry and a thin orange half-moon.

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