Ernest Hemingway didn't invent the daiquiri—that honor goes to an American mining engineer working in Cuba at the end of the 19th century—but he did improve on it.
The so-called Papa Doble, which the author probably badgered the bartender into making at El Floridita Bar in Havana sometime in the 1930s or '40s, consists of 2 oz. light rum, .75 oz. fresh lime juice, .5 oz. fresh grapefruit juice, 1 tsp. sugar, and 1 tsp. maraschino liqueur shaken and strained into a chilled cocktail glass. Hemingway described the drink as having "no taste of alcohol and felt, as you drank them, the way downhill glacier skiing feels running through powder snow."
Papa claimed to have downed 16 of them in one sitting—but he also claimed to have cured his erectile dysfunction by going to church.
No matter, the Papa Doble—or Hemingway Daiquiri or Hemingway Special or El Floridita No. 4, depending on who you ask—is tailor-made for sipping in the summer heat.
Honoring both the seasonal appropriateness and Idaho's connection to Hemingway (he committed suicide at his Ketchum home on July 2, 1961) a Boise Weekly tasting panel shook up a flotilla of the icy tipple to see exactly what the iconic literary lush had in his glass.
As noted, the daiquiri was invented by a mining engineer, Jennings S. Cox, who managed a nickel mine in the Sierra Maestra region of Cuba. History buffs know the Sierra Maestras as the base of the Cuban revolution, where Fidel Castro and Che Guevara holed up to battle the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in the 1950s.
Prior to the revolution, Bacardi was the island's premier rum, and, according to The School of Sophisticated Drinking: An Intoxicating History of Seven Spirits (Greystone Books, 2015), workers at Cox's mine were rationed a gallon of Bacardi Carta Blanca Superior per month.
As such, it was with Bacardi Superior that daiquiris were primarily mixed from Cox's time to Hemingway's. In the years following the revolution, Bacardi was booted from Cuba, to be replaced by Havana Club, which is still extremely hard to get due to longtime trade restrictions.
In an effort to ensure authenticity, the first daiquiris we mixed were with Bacardi Superior. It has a clean aftertaste, allowing the tartness of the grapefruit to come through. Though slightly acidic and definitely characterized by an alcohol taste, the drink is mellowed by the Maraska Maraschino Cherry Liqueur ($22.95). Good call, Hem.
The drink is an elegant shade of milky pink and, despite all manner of sickly sweet additives that infested it in the 1970s and '80s, it is anything but syrupy. Using Hemingway's glacial skiing comparison as a yardstick, Superior does well. It has a bizarre ability to warm as it cools. Bad news: it goes down far, far too quickly.
Bacardi Maestro de Ron—$24.95
This higher-shelf offering from Bacardi does not disappoint. Double-aged in white oak casks, it has a more rounded mouth feel and is not nearly as hot as the Superior. Sipped neat, the Maestro de Ron, so named for the "master blenders" who have overseen Bacardi's trade secrets since 1862, presents a cinnamon tone that, when mixed with Maraska, evokes the flavor of a tart cherry pie.
As a daiquiri, Maestro builds on all the characteristics of its little brother, the Superior, making for a more mature drinking experience. But, sometimes, maturity isn't everything.
Wray and Nephew Overproof Rum—$21.95
Speaking of immaturity, meet Wray and his nephew. This Jamaican rum—both the Bacardi Superior and Maestro de Ron carry Puerto Rican pedigrees—is fumey in the glass. It has a wicked afterburn (it is 126 proof, after all), and was by far the sweetest of the three. This is a rum for pirates.
We can't say we didn't like it, though. Wray and Nephew (or Druncle, as we began calling it), warms and energizes. Rather than co-mingling with the other daiquiri ingredients, it grabbed them by the shirt collars and dragged them down the dock to be press-ganged into service.
This rum is not to be trifled with, and probably isn't a good pick for a daiquiri—especially if our goal was to sip a drink that transported us to the alpine heights of an Austrian glacier. Rather, a Wray and Nephew daiquiri nearly transported us to falling asleep in our deck chairs, only to wake up with a brutal sunburn and a worse headache.
Hemingway was as drunk as he was genius. Still, you have to hand it to him when it comes to rum drinks. We'll admit to a certain trepidation toward daiquiris. Though the cocktail was all the rage in the '20s—so much so that daiquiri bars popped up all over New York—and no less than President John F. Kennedy was a well known daiquiri devotee, it suffered grievous harm in the mid- to late-20th century as it was sweetened beyond all reason. Using Papa's recipe, however, the daiquiri offers a tart, satisfying experience.
We're going to stick with tradition and stand by Bacardi Superior. It's hotter than the Maestro, but at $15 for a fifth, it's a steal. As for the Maestro, it's smooth, sophisticated and a fine daiquiri base. However, it's also a little featureless in the cocktail. Better to sip it on the rocks with a squirt of fresh lime in order to appreciate its subtlety.
As for Wray and Nephew, subtlety is the least of its qualities, but we had a certain affection for this rock 'em, sock 'em rum. It's raw. It feels less processed and therefore embodies the devil-may-care attitude most drinkers expect of a booze best associated with sea going ne'er do wells. (Side note: it mixes well with sweet tea and lemon.)
In short, we liked all three, but when it comes to daiquiris, take Papa's advice and reach for the Superior—and the maraschino liqueur.