The Best Rum for a Daiquiri

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Your choice of rum matters when it comes to daiquiris. [Photographs: Jennifer Hess]

In these hot, muggy times, the thoughts and hearts of drinkers turn to the perfect hot-weather drink: the daiquiri. Now, when I say daiquiri, I'm not talking about anything fruity or frozen. I mean the original, the classic: the simple sour of rum, lime juice, and either simple syrup or sugar.

I usually like mine bone-dry. I'll usually mix one with 2 ounces of rum, either 3/4 or 1 ounce of lime, and a couple of barspoons of superfine sugar. Then I shake the hell out of it on ice to dissolve the sugar and pour it into a chilled coupe glass.

Back in February I started exploring the best ingredients to use in a Negroni. I'm now on a similar mission for the daiquiri.

This drink is easy to test. Lime juice is lime juice (a slight oversimplification since there are a few lime varieties out there, but bear with me), and white sugar is white sugar. But the rums, oh the rums. That's where you can have some fun.

The Rums

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I've had great daiquiris made with dark rums, but in general, when I want a daiquiri, I'm looking for refreshment. I want something deliciously bright and crisp and sharp. Dark rums tend to be rich and smooth and mellow. That's what I want when I'm drinking a Mai Tai or a rum Old Fashioned, but it's not what I want when I want a daiquiri. But which white rum is best in this classic drink? I put five to the test to find out.

  • Bacardi Superior (about $14 for 750 mL). I'm guessing you're familiar with this white rum from Puerto Rico. I think anyone who's had a daiquri has at one time had a Bacardi daiquiri, and I wanted to see how it would fare in a blind tasting.
  • Flor de Caña (about $15 for 750 mL). A bright, crisp white rum from Nicaragua. Flor is a go-to for sipping and cocktails, plus it's pretty affordable and widely available.
  • Rhum Barbancourt (about $18 for 750 mL). This white rum from Haiti is made from freshly pressed sugar cane, using a pot still. Though it's made in a manner similar to an agricole-style rum, it doesn't have the sort of abiding funk you expect from agricole.
  • Rhum Clément Premiére Canne (about $30 for 750 mL). A rich white agricole from Martinique. Unlike the Barbancourt, Rhum Clément Premiére Canne has a potent funk that reaches your nose the moment you open the bottle.
  • Ron Diplomatico Blanco (about $33 for 750 mL). A 6-year-old rum from Venezuela that is filtered to remove the barrel coloration.

Get Mixing!

Several variables in each daiquiri remained the same:

  • Proportions. Each drink was 1 ounce rum, 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice, and 1 teaspoon simple syrup.
  • Ice. I weighed the ice to make sure it was the same for each drink.
  • Glassware. Though I normally serve daiquiris in coupe glasses, I don't own enough of them right now to test five drinks, so I used V-shaped cocktail glasses instead.
  • Technique. I shook each drink over fresh ice, to chill and properly dilute it, and then strained it into a glass.

My wife and I were both blind-tasting the daiquiris. To ensure that neither one of us knew which glass was which, I used the following method:

  1. I mixed each drink and poured each one into a glass.
  2. I designated the drinks as A, B, C, D, and E, and then took them out to my wife in the living room.
  3. I kept a note on my phone saying which drink was which.
  4. While I was in the kitchen, my wife shuffled the drinks, so that I wouldn't know which one was which. So she knew where A, B, C, etc. were on the table, but she didn't know what was in each glass. I knew what was in each glass, but I didn't know where A, B, C, etc. were.
  5. Because the rums were clear and the proportions of each ingredient were the same in each drink, we didn't notice any color variations in the drinks.

The Results

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Does the rum you use in a daiquiri change the drink's flavor? You bet.

A great daiquiri should marry the rum and lime flavors, without either flavor overpowering the other. A citrusy-tasting rum can be delicious, but in a daiquiri, it can leave you with a drink that's overwhelmed by lime flavors. We love a rich and funky rum, but in a daiquiri, the lime can collapse under that weight.

Ron Diplomatico Blanco

This bright and impressively balanced daiquiri was our favorite of the bunch. It was the kind of daiquiri that makes you want to be in a lounge chair, poolside. It tasted crisp and tart, with a range of citrus flavors that were prominent but not overpowering. On its own, this rum has a creamy, smooth texture, and in the daiquiri, a hint of coconut came out.

We found that Diplomatico carried the right balance of flavor to pair well with the lime and sugar: it's rich but not funky, flavorful but not in a showy, dramatic way. The Diplomatico daiquiri was just how we like this classic drink: tropical, fruity, and dry.

Flor de Caña

Our second-favorite of the lineup had a vivid tropical fruit aroma that carried through to the flavor. The tartness of the drink helped to punch this up, almost as if the drink were made with pineapple instead of lime. If you're watching your wallet, Flor de Caña is the rum for your daiquiri.

Rhum Barbancourt

Tasting this daiquiri blind, we first noticed the herbal, grassy scent. Though all the drinks had the same amount of sugar, this cocktail tasted quite a bit sweeter than the others, with a more piercing lime presence. Overall, we liked the drink but it didn't dazzle us. I was surprised to learn that this was the Barbancourt daiquiri; I expected to like that version more. This drink also reminded me of an important lesson...more on that below.

Rhum Clément Premiére Canne

This drink was a dead giveaway: it had a much stronger aroma than any of the others, and a funky, vegetal flavor without much sweetness. The Rhum Clément Premiére Canne daiquiri had the most complex flavor of the daiquiris we tried. The problem: it also tasted the least like a classic daiquiri. If I wanted a classic daiquiri, I wouldn't choose this, but if I were in the mood for a funky cocktail, I'd go Rhum Clément without hesitating.

Bacardi

Though this daiquiri had a mild aroma, it also offered a sharpness that reminded us a little bit of freshly grated ginger. The citrus flavors dominate the drink, and there isn't much of a rummy finish. If you have friends who like fruity drinks but are uncertain whether they like rum, this affordable bottling will do just fine.

Lessons Learned

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In the forthcoming cocktail book from New York City's Death & Co., various D&C bartenders share their favorite daiquiri recipes. What's interesting about the recipes is that some of them use a blend of two different rums as the base in order to layer and balance more complex flavors and fill in any holes.

This advice is worth heeding. In the case of the funky Rhum Clement Premiére Canne, mixing with a fruitier tasting rum would tone down the vegetal side, resulting in a brighter drink. So, for example, you could blend the Clement with Flor de Caña, for a complex drink that balances funk and fruit.

I was also surprised by how much more sugary the Barbancourt daiquiri tasted compared to the others. This reminded me of an important principle: a drink recipe is not one size fits all. You really need to adjust the quantities of ingredients depending on what spirits or liqueurs you're using. A Barbancourt daiquiri needs a little less sugar than some other rums require. I used a teaspoon of simple syrup for these daiquiris; one half teaspoon would have sufficed for the Barbancourt. Taste your drinks as you make them, and you might be able to get the balance right.

More Rum Options

If you can't find the rums on this list, there are other options. For example, El Dorado 3 Year Old Superior White (about $20 for 750 mL) is produced in a similar fashion to Diplomatico: it's barrel-aged but then filtered to round out the flavor and strip the color away. If you can't find Diplomatico, El Dorado would sub in well.

Brugal Blanco Especial (about $20 for 750 mL) would work well in place of Flor de Caña, as would Caña Brava Rum (about $35 for 1 L) or 10 Cane (about $24 for 750 mL).

Don Q (about $10 for 750 mL) is a nearly perfect replacement for Bacardi, if you want a light-tasting daiquiri or if you're mixing them for a crowd.

If you want to go funky and don't have Clément, you could swap in La Favorite Blanc (about $38 for 1 L) or Neisson Blanc (about $45 for 1 L); both have the earthy funk and richness that you'd look for in an agricole-based daiquiri.

Disclosure: Ron Diplomatico Blanco tasting sample provided for review consideration.

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