Last week I shared with you the history and recipe of one of the most refreshing cocktails on the planet (in my humble opinion), the Daiquiri. Last Sunday, as I was sitting out on my Brooklyn balcony (read fire escape) and throwing one back I thought to myself, the readers deserve more Daiquiri action! So I decided to dedicate this week's Happy Hour to a close relative of the Daiquiri which also hails from Cuba, the Hotel Nacional cocktail.
As the name denotes, the Hotel Nacional was created at the historic Hotel Nacional in Havana. Opened in 1930 and still operating today, the Hotel Nacional was a luxurious destination for Western society's elite, especially prior to the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Over the years it hosted some of the most influential people in the world of politics, sports, and entertainment. Winston Churchill, Frank Sinatra, Mickey Mantle, Buster Keaton, Rocky Marciano, and Ernest Hemingway were but a few of the notable names who frequented the hotel when in Havana.
In addition to the famous, the hotel has also played host to the infamous--most notably Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano. It was at the Hotel Nacional in 1946 where heads of American and Italian crime families gathered for the infamous Havana Conference, which was later dramatized in The Godfather Part II.
The Hotel Nacional is like many other things in Cuba in that it has long outlived its glory years, yet still stands as a defiant reminder of that glory.
For whatever reason the story of the hotel is much easier to pin down than the story of its signature cocktail. Although the drink's origin is not in doubt, its exact name and its precise recipe don't appear to be so clear. Although I refer to it as the Hotel Nacional cocktail, I have seen it referred as the Nacional Cocktail, Nacional Daiquiri, and Hotel Nacional de Cuba cocktail, just to name a few.
Now, normally mere name distinctions matter little if at all, as this kind of thing is not uncommon with older cocktail recipes. The problem in this case however, is that with each name also comes a different recipe with differing ingredient amounts, and some even have ingredients not called for in the others. For example, although most recipes concur the drink consists of rum, lime juice, sugar, and apricot brandy, there is a recipe in Ted Saucier's classic tome Bottoms Up which calls for pineapple juice, which most other recipes do not call for. To add to the confusion, the book claims the Hotel Nacional as the source of its recipe.
Therefore in the absence of clarity I will be the decider (like G-Dubya, but with more thoughtful consideration and less disastrous consequences). Below are two recipes. The first is with ingredients and proportions that I think work best to keep the drink true to its Daiquiri roots. The second is the recipe from Bottoms Up which incorporates pineapple juice.
1 1/2 oz white rum (Cruzan offers a splendid and affordable choice)
3/4 oz apricot brandy (Rothman & Winter is great)
3/4 oz lime juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
Tools: shaker, strainer
Glass: chilled coupe (pictured) or cocktail glass
Pre-chill glass by placing in the freezer. Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously for about 10 seconds or so. Strain into your glass and enjoy!
Hotel Nacional de Cuba (from Bottoms Up by Ted Saucier)
1 1/2 oz Bacardi rum
2 oz pineapple juice
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp apricot brandy
Tools: shaker, strainer
Glass: chilled coupe or cocktail glass
Place all ingredients in shaker. Shake well, pour into cocktail glass and garnish with stick of pineapple and a cherry.
What distinguishes the Hotel Nacional from the original Daiquiri, and makes it essentially a different take on it, is the apricot brandy. Believe me when I say a good quality apricot brandy makes all the difference. Skip anything that looks and tastes artificial, as it will totally ruin the drink.
Bear in mind that I prefer Daiquiri-style drinks on the less sweet, more citrusy side. I also like to double strain this drink in order to keep it clear of ice chips and pulp. But you should adjust amounts to suit your taste. In fact, that's probably why there are so many different recipes for this drink.
Lastly, remember that unlike the Mojito or Collins which are considered "long drinks" that can be sipped at one's leisure, the Daiquiri is intended as a quick, sharp kick to your thirst (and sobriety), and thus better gulped down with haste than slowly savored.
Here's to Cuba--past, present, and future. Cheers!
*Paystyle was born in Tehran and grew up in Los Angeles (aka Tehrangeles) before moving to Brooklyn with his wife and co-pilot Vanessa Bahmani who provides the photography of Pay's cocktail concoctions. Return every Wednesday for his weekly Happy Hour column.