Daiquiri; An Analysis

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x oz. rum
y oz. lime juice
z g. sugar

The daiquiri is an iconic drink with no specific recipe. What one believes a daiquiri should be is all subject to the principles of cultural relativity. This relative concept is significant because of how polarized western food ways are. One might find another’s daiquiri to be undrinkably sweet, too tart, or too alcoholic. Hemingway often enjoyed a sugarless daiquiri that most imbibers would find very extreme and probably inharmonious.

With just three ingredients (plus some water!) there is a multitude of options. Rum, which fortifies the drink, is the most diverse spirits category there is. The range of rum’s aromas is staggering and hard to fully outline. Rum aromas can range from simplistic (and very common in culinary) like caramel or vanilla to rare like iodine, or the enigmatic and un-nameable (beyond language!). The appeal of rum aromas are also subject to a lot of culturally relative symbolism. Each of us has an olfactory construct which we use to categorize aromatic experiences and attach meaning. In western culture there are some aromas with close to universal symbolism but classification is also often very personal. To me, the aroma of caramel in rum is a negative. I find caramel boring and try to avoid rums dominated by the aroma. I don’t want my rum to go through some elaborate process and end up smelling like something ordinary I could just make in my kitchen. Yet the market speaks and those rums sell well. Within rum, many people probably hold the caramel aroma favorably in their olfactory construct. Symbols can congeal. Maybe I used to like caramel as well, but experiences can make your olfactory construct shift and reconfigure.

For many, a daiquiri takes shape with an intense plane of acid. Limes have a very consistent amount of acidity, but their aromas can vary significantly. The lime aroma is very piney and angular in nature, but the degree of its intensity varies significantly with the lime. Sometimes when limes have a yellowed skin, the aroma of their juice can be obnoxious, overly piney and very hard to enjoy. If the lime has dimpled skin, the rind is usually very thick and there is little juice inside. Limes with the best juice economy and most elegant aroma are not so intensely green as dimpled limes, don’t feel solid, and have very smooth skin. These are what growers strive to put on the market.

The character of the sugar source for a daiquiri can vary drastically. Bleached and highly refined white sugars are not aromatic. Bleached sugar brings sweetness to the daiquiri’s structure but no aromatic contrast to the rum and lime. On the other hand, raw sugars can be distinct and highly aromatic. At the far extreme, molasses is a concentrate of the aromatic part of sugar, separated during the refining process. Aromatic sugars have a density of aroma that can overshadow many nuances of a rum and should be used with that in mind. Using a sugar source with aroma also has the potential to make boring rums much more exciting.

The relationship of sugar to acid is where the majority of the daiquiri’s emotional content comes from. Aroma, its level of extract, and alcohol pull on these planes of structure, but they are not too significant or predictably manipulated. The pH or even g/L as citric of the acid is hard to obsess over so it becomes easiest to describe the acid/sugar ratio as relative to a 400g/L sugar source in a 2:1:1 sour.

1.5 oz. rum (80 proof)
.75 oz. lime juice
.75 oz. sugar syrup (400g/L or very close to a common 1:1 simple syrup)

The above recipe really captures the average of most western tastes and is what is typically served in a restaurant scenario. As the relative amount of sugar decreases, the drink can be described as drier and appealing to less imbibers on average while sometimes gaining in its ability to thrill a minority. When producing daiquiris for others, the challenge becomes abstracting the drink to an idealized emotional state by changing the ratios of rum, lime, and sugar as well as other planes like temperature, dissolved gas and inhomogeneous elements like ice chips produced during shaking.

Switching to stirred in granular sugar while trying to maintain a similar acid/sugar ethic decreases the overall volume of the drink and therefore you need to extrapolate other variables. Using granular sugar without a scale takes intuition, but can increase the intensity of the spirit without having to use a higher proof bottling because the drink is not diluted with water from the syrup.

Language to describe the emotional content of a drink is very underdeveloped and because food ways are so diverse, all we really have is trial and error when matching drinks to drinkers which can be costly. Unlike a painting which only needs to be painted once, every time a culinary work is consumed it needs to be produced which is not without expense. We have developed language effective enough to sell drinks and make them seem enticing, but not effective enough for people to actually understand what they are getting with any precision. Most imbibers just shoot in the dark with a simplistic mentality of “I like ‘x’ trendy liqueur so I bet I’ll like any drink that features it”. Everybody gets by, but with such an asynchronous system (one side knows everything, the other side knows little) for new experiences, the art can not go very far. No one is likely to become the Arnold Schoenberg of mixology, expressing the tricky aspects of the zeitgeist which require new notions of flavor harmony.

Anyhow, make my daiquiri like a Markovich Lissitzky or Wassily Kandisnky painting; abstracted and expressionist. Stretch it with the emotionally charged raring to go structure of a 250 gram sour pulled taut by low extract aroma (via non-aromatic sugar!). Throw out those common “culinary” aromas. I want my mind to wander through enigmatic, mermaid-grotesque, aged, Cape Verdean rum aromas terraced against the gentle piny-ness of a perfect lime. Forget those over oaked, lacquered up whiskey cocktails, this will be like a licking a green marble sculpture; shaped by structure and veined by aroma. If you come from a Snapple-sweet tea lifestyle, be prepared to find out we don’t idealize the world the same way.

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5 thoughts on “Daiquiri; An Analysis

  1. Bravo – I certainly didn’t expect a connection to be made between tasting daiquiris and Arnold Schoenberg, but I must say that I enjoyed it.

    As for developing language for more precisely describing drinks (setting expectations and providing a standard for accurate comparisons), how many factors do you think would need to be captured? In other words, if a matrix were created to convey a drink’s fingerprint, how many data points would there need to be, and what would they be? Temperature, viscosity, acidity, sweetness, etc. are the easy ones. It seems that you’re qualified to add more.



  2. i meant to detail the data points in the last post but my ideas wandered… there is quite a few data points in classic wine analysis, but now we can add more from aroma.

    i think a super cool data point would be to create a IBU (international bitterness unit) such as in beer which i think can be done from measuring the alkaloid content. this could be used to refine infusion techniques for specific botanicals. the quinine content of amaros which has to be under a maximum allowance is calculated (or rather estimated) from the alkaloid content according to amerine’s “technology of wine making”

  3. I’m very much enjoying reading your blog. The last paragraph of this post is particularly beautiful, and I wanted to suggest that you edit it to replace “taught” with “taut.”



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