Updated July 2014
This is one in a series of reviews of drinks that appeared on the original 1956-57 Mai-Kai cocktail menu but were later retired. Included is the ancestor recipe that inspired it, plus a tribute that attempts to reinterpret what The Mai-Kai’s version would taste like today had it not disappeared.
Arguably the most definitive rum cocktail, perhaps even the prototype for all future tropical drinks, is the humble daiquiri. This simple combination of rum, lime and sugar mixed with ice can be traced back to Cuba in the early 1900s.
While not nearly as old as proto rum cocktails such as the British Navy Grog or pre-colonial punches, the Daiquri is distinctive for its precise craft and reliance on ice as a crucial ingredient. Though deeply linked to Cuba, the Dauquiri was reputedly invented by an American, mining engineer Jennings Cox, who was working in Cuba during the Spanish-American War.
The drink quickly became a favorite among the military, then the tourists who flocked to the Caribbean island, especially during Prohibition. It’s likely both Donn Beach (aka Don the Beachcomber) and Victor Bergeron (aka Trader Vic) ran across the daiquiri during their travels in the Caribbean before opening their bars in California that kick-started the Tiki cocktail craze in the 1930s.
Cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry covers the fascinating history of the daiquiri extensively in his epic book, Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them, released in late 2013 by Cocktail Kingdom. It covers everything from the town that inspired the name, to all its reputed inventors, to its adaptation by mid-century Tiki bars.
The Beachcomber and Trader Vic menus are loaded with daiquiris, as is the menu at the iconic Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale. Open since 1956, it still features many drinks traced back to Donn Beach (Special Reserve Daiquiri) but also the traditional Floridita Daiquiri and an acclaimed original creation of mixologist Mariano Licudine, the Derby Daiquiri.