Exiting the Farragut North Metro station into the sweltering heat, I headed toward the members-only Army and Navy Club on 17th Street, There, at the bar, I learned for certain that no Washington summer can really be counted complete without at least a sip of a daiquiri cocktail.
Although a Cuban concoction, the daiquiri has a unique connection to Washington, specifically to the Army and Navy Club. It was one of the club’s members who brought the cocktail here and helped it spread around the country.
According to legend, an American engineer named Jennings Stockton Cox, Jr., invented the daiquiri in Cuba in the summer of 1896 (some accounts have 1898). Other characters crop up in other versions, but throughout Cox is featured as the protagonist.
He was in Cuba managing the properties of the Spanish-American Iron Company and the Pennsylvania Steel Company. Expecting to entertain some American visitors one day, Cox discovered that he had run out of gin and so had to resort to the heady local rum, made by a family firm called Bacardi.
Jennings Cox cut the rum with fresh lime juice, and then added cane sugar to modify the acid, and used ice to chill it all down. Cox lived near the iron mines, in a small southeastern coastal village called Daiquiri. He didn’t have to think hard to name his drink.
In 1909, after the Spanish-American War, the USS Minnesota, commanded by Capt. Charles H. Harlow, paid a visit to Guantanamo, Cuba. Harlow toured the old battlegrounds, accompanied by the ship’s young medical officer, Lt. Lucius W. Johnson. They were entertained at Daiquiri by none other than Jennings Cox, and were served his cocktail. Delighted and enchanted, Johnson copied down Cox’s recipe and bought large quantities of the local Bacardi rum.
When Johnson returned to the United States, he introduced the daiquiri to the Army and Navy Club, which promptly adopted it as the official house drink. The bar there was renamed the Daiquiri Lounge. Johnson then set about as an avid advocate of the cocktail, slowly spreading its familiarity and popularity around the nation.
There is a brass plaque in the Daiquiri Lounge of the Army and Navy Club that commemorates Johnson’s admirable advocacy work. He eventually rose to the rank of rear admiral, and I am assured by serious folks that he was better known for his pioneering use of mobile surgical hospitals during World War II, and his role as officer-in-charge of construction for what is now known as Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda.
Certainly I’d have promoted him to admiral on the strength of the daiquiri alone, but that’s just me.
There are several classic recipes for the daiquiri, and many widely known variations. Of late, I prefer my version of the recipe developed by barman Pietro Collina of the NoMad Bar in New York City.
2 ounces white rum (for this I prefer the Flor de Caña 4 Year Extra Dry Rum; Bacardi Silver Rum will do but doesn’t work quite as well)
1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
¾ ounce rich simple syrup (made with a 2:1 ratio of sugar dissolved in water; Demerara or Turbinado cane sugar preferred)
Hard cracked ice
Fill cocktail shaker at least two-thirds full of hard, cracked ice, then add the liquid ingredients; shake it vigorously for 12-15 seconds, strain into a chilled cocktail (martini) glass. Garnish, if you wish, with a lime twist. Drink and repeat as necessary or desired. L’chaim!
Send your wine and spirits questions to Joshua E. London at [email protected].