I associate most frozen daiquiris with Kool-Aid-colored jugs filled with stuff made from shelf-stable, sweet-and-sour premade mix—bubblegum pink or electric green, pick your poison. But this summer, I've been thinking a lot about actually good frozen daiquiris and how they relate to a cookbook I've gotten a little obsessed with: Joshua McFadden's Six Seasons: A New Way With Vegetables. You've probably seen this tome around; written by the chef of Ava Gene's in Portland, it's garnered all sorts of praise since its release in May. The book offers inspiring treatments for vegetables that are often relegated to a boring crudité tray—if you're looking for a new way to treat celery or cabbage, you need a copy.
But the reason I've been thinking about Six Seasons and frozen cocktails is this: Trust.
McFadden and his co-author Martha Holmberg trust readers to trust their own tastebuds. They urge you to step up and take control, tasting, and seasoning, and tasting again, and seasoning again. It can be a little frustrating, but it's an important thing to remember as a home cook (or a home drink-maker).
Try as we might, recipe developers often cannot dictate the exact quantities of seasonings your ingredients may need. One day, your peas will be perfectly sweet and your lemons will be perfectly sour, and on the next, your lemons will be oddly sweet and your peas will need a little something. You have to adjust. You may have to amp up the acid. You may have to add a little salt, and then sometimes (but not all the time!) a little more. It can be frustrating. We want cookbooks to be the authority, to tell us what to do exactly, but sometimes, all they can do is tell us to taste, and taste again.
Which brings us to this drink. I wish I could provide you with a one-size-fits-all recipe for the perfect frozen daiquiri. But instead, I'm going to give you the guidelines, and then I'm going to trust you. I promise your results will be fantastic if you just trust yourself.
When Daniel offered his super-tropical Piña Colada recipe in July, he didn't try to micromanage your rum selections. Which makes sense: You're probably going to make drinks with whatever booze you have on hand. That's cool with me, though I will say this: Not all rums are the same. Not even close. Some are funky and earthy, some are crisp and grassy, some leave a rich, sweet taste on your tongue, while others are basically dry.
And so the rum you use for a frozen daiquiri matters, especially in terms of the final sugar level of your drink. Don't let this stress you out: just know that you will need to act fast, tasting your first frozen daiquiri (poor you) and adding a touch more sweetener or acidity as needed to your first drink before serving. Once you've doctored the recipe to your liking, you can make note of the change, and go forth with those proportions for the remainder of your bottle of rum.
Trying a new rum? Taste, and taste again.
So what should you use? While I'm a big fan of classic shaken daiquiris made with light rum, I'd recommend an aged rum when you're going frozen. When a drink is this cold, its flavors tend to dull a little, so you want something a little more full and robust. Bartenders I spoke to for this post recommended Caña Brava's 7 Year Old; I also had success with the more affordable Appleton Estate Signature Blend and the richer Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva.
You can make a daiquiri with whatever sugar you sprinkle in your coffee (but maybe not sugar substitute, because that can introduce some pretty yucky flavors). But my preference by far is not to use standard white granulated sugar in your simple syrup for this drink.
In my testing, I found that white sugar left the drink a little bland, while turbinado sugar (such as Sugar in the Raw) seemed to fill the holes in the drink's flavor, bridging the gap between the rum and the lime and producing a beverage that's simultaneously bracing and a little rich. The only downside is that turbinado dissolves a little slower than white sugar does. My method is to add equal parts sugar and hot water to a mason jar, seal it well, and shake until everything's uniform. It takes a minute.
As I mentioned above, this drink will need to be adjusted depending on the rum you use. You'll start with 3/4 ounce of fresh lime juice and 3/4 ounce of turbinado simple syrup, and that might be the perfect balance for the rum you're using. But if you find that the lime sticks out in this drink, a little extra sugar offers a softening quality, helping the lime to melt right into the mix. I found that the Appleton Estate Signature Blend daiquiri tasted better with an extra few drops of simple syrup, while the Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva version definitely did not need it.
We've learned some things over the years of sharing cocktails on Serious Eats, and one of those things is that frozen drinks benefit from freezing in advance. The cooler your ingredients are, the less ice you need to add. So you'll be batching your rum, your lime, and your simple syrup and stashing the mix in your freezer at least 8 hours before serving.
When it's game time, you just need 8 ice cubes in the blender with your mix and you're ready to go. We're aiming for the minimum ice quantity here so that your drink will be robustly flavored. If it's 120 degrees where you live this time of year, though, you may need an extra cube or two to keep things frosty. If you have access to crushed ice, that will make things easier on your blender: weigh out about 160 grams and get blending.
Want to branch out from the basic frozen daq? Our formula takes kindly to fresh, ripe strawberries, too, yielding a drink that's vibrantly flavored and colored. It's juicy and sweet-tart, eye-opening and brain-chilling.
Some folks I talked to told me they go a little lighter on the lime when adding in fresh berries, but if your berries are good and ripe, you'll want the extra tartness to balance them out. I ended up preferring the very same proportions of lime, sugar, and rum in the strawberry version as in the classic—the rum that needed a touch more sugar in the basic frozen daiquiri also tasted better with it here. I do like one addition, though: just as a pinch of salt can make summer tomatoes taste better, it works wonders with strawberries. Add it.
If anything could make frozen daiquiris cool again, it's fernet, the bitter, minty digestivo that once was the secret handshake of bartenders. Adding fernet to a frozen drink may sound like a hipster affectation, but it turns out that a touch of the stuff brightens the cocktail and adds an unexpected herbal dimension. The drink becomes bracing and refreshing in a new way. Trust me, you'll like it.