Elevating a frozen drink that’s become a beacon of summer to cocktail status.
People in other states wonder how Louisianans survive the heat and humidity from June through August. Two words: frozen daiquiris. The best part about this refreshing, sugary drink is that we don’t have to leave our air-conditioned vehicles to get them. Throughout the state, drive-thru daiquiri shops serve the frozen mixture in a Styrofoam cup with a straw in a variety of flavors, passing it through a small order window to thirsty citizens at the wheel.
Until now, the daiquiri has had its place in Louisiana drinking culture but without much respect. Like we said, it’s a sugary drink served in Styrofoam. But New Orleans’ annual event Tales of the Cocktail is looking to change that this year by naming the daiquiri their “official cocktail.”
“There is no known cure for the New Orleans summer, but science has found ways to alleviate the symptoms. Foremost among these is the New Orleans frozen daiquiri,” says cocktail author and historian Wayne Curtis. As a competition judge for the event’s Official Cocktail Competition, Curtis was also part of the panel that chose the Desert Lily Daiquiri from among 200 submissions from around the world as this year’s winning concoction.
Created by bartender Spencer Warren of Butcher and the Rye in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Desert Lily is a frozen blend of Cana Brava Rum, aloe vera juice, lime juice, simple syrup, Perfect Puree Prickly Pear, lemon juice and Fee’s Lavender Flower Water. (Scroll down for the recipe.) Warren says the color and refreshing taste of his daiquiri should stand out on a hot summer day just like the flower it’s named for.
“I’m picturing me sunburnt on a hot summer day trying to find ways to cool down,” he adds. “What is better than just rubbing aloe onto your sunburn arms … I wanted to add the hint of floral honey in the nose of Caña Brava Rum, so I added a few drops of Lavender Water. This cocktail should cool you down while sipping it on a hot summer day.”
While Hemingway’s daiquiri (pictured below) was a blend of white rum, lime juice and sugar over crushed ice, Tales competitors were required to adhere to the classic ingredients yet maintain a frozen consistency. To do this, most bars use a daiquiri machine that freezes the drink by rotating and spinning.
“As we know it in Louisiana, the daiquiri has almost next to no relation to that first daiquiri,” explains Jeremy Thompson, creator of New Orleans Daiquiri Festival and the campaign to “Defend the Daiquiri.” In America, the history of the drink begins with Jennings Cox, an American expatriate working in Cuba. The story goes that he ran out of gin at a party, so added lime juice and sugar to rum to improve the taste. His mixture was named after the nearby village of Daiquiri and eventually spread to Washington, D.C.
In Louisiana, Wilmart Liquors in Ruston is credited with first serving frozen daiquiris to students attending Louisiana Tech University. Family member Dolph Williams revolutionized the industry by creating a machine in 1982 that could work with any frozen beverage: the Frosty Factory. Thompson says the efforts of the Williams family resulted in there being more daiquiri shops in the Bible Belt of North Louisiana still today than the more booze-soaked southern part of the state.
Credit for today’s daiquiri shop — Frosty Factory machines lined up behind a bar spinning brightly colored frozen drinks — goes to Baton Rouge entrepreneur Dave Briggs who opened the first New Orleans Original Daiquiris in Hammond in 1983. A year later, he followed up with the first Fat Tuesday in Atlanta. It became an international phenomenon and spread throughout the United States, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Honduras.
“Louisiana took it and turned it into an industry, a tradition, a ritual,” says Thompson. “There’s no other existence of a cocktail that has its own type of establishment.” He adds that the drive-thru and just nature of the word “shop” also add to the allure of the daiquiri, meant to be consumed on-the-go.
It’s a concept Thompson has worked to defend just as lawmakers, lobbyists and shop owners before him. His “Defend the Daiquiri” campaign was a response to New Orleans neighborhood associations attempting to ban the “go cup” and even restrict businesses from selling drinks with the name “daiquiri” in some places. He founded the Daiquiri Festival to further celebrate the drink and go cup culture in the city and also has hopes of the daiquiri becoming Louisiana’s official state cocktail.
With its designation from Tales of the Cocktail — happening July 15-19 — the daiquiri is on its way to gaining more respect in the cocktail world and evolving from a DayGlo sugary concoction. Booty’s Street Food in the New Orleans Bywater has had a frozen drink on its menu since opening in 2013, with the Bywater Bomber (pictured) serving as the house daiquiri. A mixture of Old New Orleans white rum, pineapple juice, lime juice, orange juice, Angostura bitters and rosewater, the drink remains popular among customers who have the option of ordering it to go in a special cup.
Wyatt Lowrey, Booty’s bar manager, says New Orleans has been a daiquiri town for a long time, and he sees the market for the drink growing substantially in the coming years. “New Orleans is always going to have the option for the not-so-classy daiquiri more meant for a sugar bomb of a drink, but I feel like frozen daiquiris are an outlet for the craft cocktail world,” he says. “We can show we can actually make a craft cocktail in a daiquiri form and be able to freeze it.”
One of the city’s newest bars, Bourree (named for the popular card game) is leading the charge by serving fresh fruit daiquiris alongside chicken wings. “What’s rad about daiqs is figuring out what we can put in a blender with ice and booze and make delicious,” their website explains. Daiquiris at Bourree follow the seasons — from strawberry to honeydew — but their revolutionary Gin & Tonic Daiquiri made with local cucumbers will be served all year round.
To learn more about New Orleans daiquiri culture and get a taste of the drink that’s making headlines around the world, board a Daiquiri Party Bus during Tales and roll on to a few legendary shops, along with new craft cocktail ones like Bourree. “Daiquiri Music” will be playing aboard, local comedian and historian Corey Mack will entertain with pop culture insights (like where Beyonce and Jay Z get their daiquiris when they’re in town), and the Who Daiq Flava Girls will keep riders on their feet between stops.
If that doesn’t signal a cool celebration of summer, we’re not sure what does.
Desert Lily Daiquiri
2 oz. Cana Brava Rum
1 oz. Aloe Vera drink
.75 oz. lime juice
.75 oz. simple syrup
.5 oz. Perfect Puree Prickly Pear
.25 oz. lemon juice
2-3 drops Fee’s Lavender Flower Water
Add all ingredients into a blender with ice and blend until a frozen slushy. Pour into a large solo cup or other vessel and top with an Amarena Fabbri Cherry. If using a large machine, add water instead of ice for freezing.
Photo credits, from top: Strawberry daiquiri by Morgan, daiquiri machines by Corey Taratuta, Floridita in Cuba by Ty Nigh and Willie’s To Go Bar by Steven Depolo from Flickr Creative Commons; Bywater Bomber courtesy of Booty’s.