As we are well into the dog days of summer, a sweltering and humid season that starts in early July and extends well into September, my thoughts have turned repeatedly to icy drinks to quench my thirst and lower my internal temperature. The term “dog days” actually has nothing to do with canines, but rather with a star, Sirius, that is particularly bright this time of year. Sirius, colloquially called the Dog Star, has since ancient times been associated with heat, drought, thunderstorms, lethargy, mad dogs and bad luck. The ancients pretty much nailed it didn’t they? Well, omitting the mad dogs and bad luck.
The phrase “mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun” also comes to mind. This is an apparent reference to the naivete of the English in their disregard for the power of the sun in hot climates. Despite the fact that my wife and I actually once got mild sunburns walking around London, the British Isles are not noted for hot sunny weather. When the Brits colonized tropical areas around the globe they were oblivious to the ill effects of venturing out in the sun during the hottest times of the day (while the locals kept to the shade and enjoyed cold libations).
Practically synonymous with icy cold drinks is the daiquiri. The basic and original version is thought to have originated in the early 20th century in Cuba, and is a work of simplicity: a perfect balance of rum, lime juice and sugar. The idea, in addition to offering a cooling refreshment, was to showcase the island’s cane spirits.
2 oz. good white rum
1 oz. + 1 teaspoon fresh squeezed lime juice
½ oz simple syrup
Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, shake vigorously. Strain into a cocktail glass.
I told you it was simple, right? In an age before blenders the drink was plenty cold if the bartender shook the concoction long and vigorously enough. Nowadays, a daiquiri almost always entails the utilization of a Waring – making a good thing even better. And, of course, the options as to flavor have long ago surpassed simply lime. Practically every fruit imaginable has been pulverized into some version of a daiquiri.
Writer, and frequent drinker, Ernest Hemingway is said to have invented a unique take on the classic daiquiri. Hemingway spent a good deal of time in Cuba and had, shall we say, an intimate relationship with rum. This one, like the classic, is typically shaken, not “blenderized.”
2 oz. white rum
¾ oz. fresh squeezed lime juice
½ oz. fresh squeezed ruby red grapefruit juice
½ oz. maraschino liqueur
Place all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until very cold, then strain into a coupe glass over shaved ice. Garnish with a small sliver of lime or grapefruit peel spiral.
This drink is exceedingly refreshing and bears little resemblance to the frozen neon-colored offerings found on cruise ships. It is sweet, but far from cloying. And the maraschino liqueur, a cherry/almond flavored delight, adds sophistication and an added depth. Papa Hemingway enjoyed these at La Floridita Bar in Havana, where he (claimed) to have once consumed 16 in one sitting. Perhaps this explains why The Old Man and the Sea is such a slim little volume …
Now, what about a frozen version? Certainly! And while strawberry is likely the ubiquitous favorite, basically any fruit can be used and will be delicious. But we’ve been there and done that, so are taking an entirely – and unexpected – tack with this one.
WATERMELON JALAPENO DAIQUIRI
(makes about 5 servings)
¼ cup sugar + ¼ cup water
1 jalapeño, seeded and roughly chopped
3 cups watermelon, frozen
1 cup white rum
¼ cup fresh squeezed lime juice
Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring mixture to a boil until sugar dissolves. Add jalapeño to the simple syrup and remove from heat. Allow to cool completely, then strain out jalapeño pieces.
To a blender add watermelon, rum, lime juice. Pulse to puree. Add jalapeño-infused simple syrup to taste. Add ice and blend to a slushy consistency. Pour into chilled coupe glasses and garnish with a tiny watermelon wedge and a slice of jalapeño.
This is one that will have your friends talking – and raving! Papa Hemingway would no doubt enjoy as well (though I’ll bet he’d drink a few less than 16). I’m going to make a batch and serve up with spicy nachos. Other than staying in the shade and drinking cold beverages, eating spicy food was how those folks in the tropics coped with the dog days of summer. The English, stuck with warm beer and bland food, never caught on. Pity, old chaps.