Wikimedia Commons [Corey Taratuta]

A History of the Daiquiri

07:00 November 06, 2023
By: Burke Bischoff

Cold & Refreshing Daiquiris

Often varied and deliciously cold, daiquiris are what locals grab to beat the New Orleans heat.

New Orleans, in addition to its unique food and incredible music, is a city famous for its creative cocktails. Libations such as the Sazerac, the Hurricane, the Pimm's cup, and the Ramos gin fizz have been made famous within the Big Easy and are must-haves for people looking to experience the city's drinking culture. The same can be said for the delicious daiquiri.

Often associated with its many colorful flavors and the drive-thru shops that sell them in Styrofoam cups, the daiquiri is a drink that can be found all over New Orleans and Louisiana. This frozen concoction has made itself a home within the Crescent City and is the perfect thing to beat the often-oppressive humidity that plagues South Louisiana. So how did this NOLA favorite come to be and when did the drink show up within the city? Let's put a straw in and find out.

El Original

The origin story of how the "daiquiri" came to be actually begins on the island of Cuba during the very late 1800s. After the Cuban War of Independence, which included the Spanish-American War in 1898, American corporations and engineers set up shop in Cuba as a result of the United States seeking to exert its influence onto the island. One such engineer was named Jennings Cox, and he was the general manager of the Spanish American Iron Company near the village of Daiquirí, which is about 14 miles from the city of Santiago de Cuba.

According to the Daiquiri Depot's "The History of the Daiquiri," Cox was supposedly entertaining American guests in his home near Daiquirí and had to go to a local store because he ran out of gin. The story goes that he could only find rum at the store, so he had to make do with that and ended up adding lime juice and sugar to the rum in order to doctor up the taste. By doing this, Cox ended up creating the very first daiquiri and it spread in popularity within Cuba. Cox's cocktail stayed centralized within Cuba until 1909 when Rear Admiral Lucius W. Johnson tried the drink and then brought it back to the Army and Navy Club in Washington, D.C., thus introducing the United States to the daiquiri.

While this seems to be the most popular story credited towards the drink's creation, there is another one that is attributed specifically to the creation of the frozen daiquiri. This is claimed by El Floridita, which is a bar in Old Havana that was once frequented by Ernest Hemingway and tons of other North American tourists. An immigrant from Catalonia named Constantino Ribalaigua Vert began working in El Floridita in 1914 as a bartender and ended up becoming the bar's owner in 1918. According to the bar's website, Vert was the one who created the frozen daiquiri in 1931. El Floridita became so famed for this drink that it also became known as "La Cuna del Daiquiri" or "The Cradle of the Daiquiri."

The Local Frozen Legend

Now the "daiquiri" that was started in Cuba and the "daiquiri" that New Orleanians know and love are not exactly the same. While the original version uses rum, citrus juice, and sugar with either whole or crushed ice, the daiquiri the locals are used to is really any frozen drink that mixes together fruity flavors and alcohol. Neither the choices of flavors nor the types of alcohol used are set in stone, so that allows for almost countless different possibilities and variations for the drink to be.

So how did the New Orleans version of the daiquiri find its way to the city? According to Daiquiri Depot, it began in Ruston, Louisiana when Red and Hazel Williams began selling a cocktail made from unused bottles of Tequila Sunrise mixed with ice out of their liquor shop in 1979. The drink became so popular that the couple began using frozen slush machines to mix the drink in order to keep up with high demand.

A man named David Briggs Jr., who was a Houston-based real estate entrepreneur, read about how well the Williams' shop was doing because of the frozen drink and its slush machines. Inspired by their success, he decided to move his family to New Orleans and open up New Orleans Original Daiquiris in 1983. His decision paid off as the shop now has around 20 locations within the Greater New Orleans area and close to 50 locations across Louisiana.

Grab One Cold Cup for Yourself

It is not hard at all to find great tasting frozen daiquiris within New Orleans. From New Orleans Original Daiquiris and Fat Tuesday to Daiquiri Paradise, Jester Mardi Gras Daiquiris, and many more, there are plenty of places to try all kinds of different NOLA daiquiris.

Anyone interested in trying the original Cuban version of the daiquiri can actually do so at a bar called Manolito, which is located at 508 Dumaine St. That bar was started by the late Manuel Carbajo Aguiar, who actually worked at El Floridita in Havana during his lifetime. According to the bar's website, Manolito's cocktails, including its many daiquiris such as the Floridita daiquiri, stay true to the techniques of El Floridita's Constantino Ribalaigua Vert.

The daiquiri, no matter what flavor or style it is, is the perfect drink to keep cool while in New Orleans. Because there are many different daiquiris to try and so, so little time, make sure to experience why this frozen brew is so beloved in the Crescent City. This storied cocktail has truly found itself a good home in this storied city.

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