The daiquiri: Steeped in D.C. history, not red dye

WASHINGTON — If the idea of a daiquiri conjures images of an over-sweetened, bright-red frozen drink, topped with a paper umbrella and a straw, you’ve got it all wrong.

“Most people’s impression of the daiquiri is so far from what the daiquiri really is,” says Derek Brown, award-winning mixologist and owner of five restaurants and bars in D.C., including The Columbia Room, Eat the Rich, Southern Efficiency, Mockingbird Hill and The Passenger.

“They think of it as a slushy; they think of it as strawberry — and it’s not to say that those things aren’t delicious, they absolutely are.”

But Brown argues the natural daiquiri — made simply of rum, cane sugar and fresh lime — is much better.

And just as the daiquiri is summer’s darling drink, it’s also D.C.’s.

Brown explains the Rickey is technically the official drink of Washington, but he considers the daiquiri a close second. That’s because the drink made its U.S. debut in the District in 1909 at the Army Navy Club.

“The guy who created it, or who reportedly created it, because sometimes there are multiple claims, was a gentleman by the name of Jennings Cox,” Brown says.

Cox was an American mining engineer who worked at the Army Corps in Cuba.

“He gave the recipe to Admiral Lucius Johnson, who then brought it to the Army Navy Club in D.C., and that’s when it caught on like wildfire. It’s so refreshing, it’s such a well-balanced drink, that people everywhere just started drinking daiquiris.”

The drink became even more popular in the ’60s, when President Kennedy was sworn into office.

“It turns out that many of the politicos in D.C. started adopting the drink-of-fashion because of JFK. It led to this whole renaissance of the daiquiri again,” Brown says.

“One of the things I love about the daiquiri is that just like the Manhattan or the martini, it represents one of the three most iconic cocktails in the history of cocktails. And it’s from right here in Washington, D.C.”

The daiquiri is still in vogue, and many D.C. bars serve a variation on the drink. At Eat the Rich in Shaw, Brown makes the classic daiquiri and a Hemingway daiquiri.

“[Hemingway] liked his without sugar; he added grapefruit juice and maraschino liqueur instead.”

Brown says one of his favorite daiquiri makers in D.C. is Adam Bernbach at 2 Birds 1 Stone. There’s an art to making the cocktail, Brown says, and a lot of it has to do with dilution and shaking.

“It still lives on. I always say [D.C.] is a bourbon town, but we know that it also has its fair share of rum here,” he says.

Want to make a daiquiri at home? Brown offers his recipe and his tricks.

The Daiquiri


1 lime (3/4 ounce of fresh lime juice)
1.5 ounce of white rum 3/4 ounce of cane sugar syrup


To get the maximum amount of juice out of the lime, remove it from the refrigerator and roll the lime between your hands to warm it up. Once it has warmed, cut the lime in half and squeeze 3/4 ounce of juice from the lime into a glass. Add 3/4 ounce of cane sugar syrup to the lime. Brown makes his syrup using two parts Turbinado sugar to one part water.

“If you like it sweeter or you like it tarter, you can adjust that to either a half-ounce or a full ounce of the sugar syrup, depending on what you prefer,” Brown says.

Add 1.5 ounces of white rum to the ingredients. Put the combined ingredients into a cocktail shaker that contains ice and shake “with a little bit of vigor.”

If you want to add additional flavors, Brown suggests using fresh strawberries and crushed ice (blended) for a fresh strawberry daiquiri, or adding herbs from the garden.

“You could use everything from tarragon to basil. You could throw in all kinds of fresh savory and sweet herbs.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up