Behind the Drink: The Hemingway Daiquiri

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Ernest Hemingway needed a bathroom.

Or so the story goes. The novelist had stopped into Havana’s El Floridita bar, not far from the hotel where he lived during much of the 1930s. On his way out, he noticed the bartender setting up Daiquiris. Never one to walk past a drink, Hemingway took a sip. Not bad, he said, but he preferred them with no sugar and double the rum. The bartender made one as specified, and then named the drink after him.

A bar. A man. A drink. “Those are the facts,” writes drink historian Ted Haigh in Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, “and from there the story goes straight to hell.”

The bartender may have called this drink the Papa Doble, which, with some ingredient additions, morphed into the Hemingway Daiquiri (or possibly the Hemingway Special or El Floridita #4). The exact history is a matter of considerable contention among cocktail sleuths, who have been poring over the clues ever since Hemingway walked out of the bathroom.

But of course, there’s what really matters: Is this a good drink?

Turns out, trusting Hemingway on cocktail quality is like trusting an NFL linebacker on how to make pasta. His concern was more about quantity than quality—Hemingway proudly claimed the El Floridita house record of 16 double Daiquiris. Of course he didn’t want sugar in his Daiquiri; those 16 drinks, if traditionally made, would have involved nearly two cups of sugar. If the alcohol didn’t kill him, the sugar certainly would.

Hemingway’s sugarless Daiquiri never really caught on the way the Dry Martini did. Try one: You’ll find it surprising that something can be so bland and so undrinkably tart at the same time. But it evolved over the years into something much better.

Argue all you want about the composition and history of a true Hemingway Daiquiri; I just figure it’s a traditional Daiquiri with a Bohemian streak—the sugar reduced at one point and grapefruit juice and maraschino liqueur added at another point to give a bit of depth and sweetness.

However it got there, it’s a fine drink.

The Hemingway Daiquiri

Contributed by: Wayne Curtis


  • 2 oz Light rum
  • .75 oz Fresh lime juice
  • .5 oz Fresh grapefruit juice
  • 1 tsp Sugar
  • 1 tsp Maraschino liqueur
  • Glass: Cocktail


Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Wayne Curtis writes about drinks for The Atlantic Monthly and is author of And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails.

(Image courtesy of Historic Photos of Ernest Hemingway, Turner Publishing)

Locations: Cuba Havana
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  • S&M posted 5 years ago

    smart man... sugar would have increased alcohol going into the bloodstream. I really can't imagine him drinking daiquiris. doesn't fit my image of him

  • Hire slush Machine posted 6 years ago

    What a great article, most informative, easy to understand.

  • badmash posted 7 years ago

    I just signed up to your blogs rss feed. Will you post more on this subject?

  • RoyWagner posted 7 years ago

    Just made one. Yes quite tart, yet interestingly so. Reminds me of so many other Pre-Prohibition "sours". Were the limes back then as tart as they are now; or am I the one buying sour limes.

    Either way, it is a nice drink on a hot day as it is today in Northern Virginia (92, feels like 106 with 61% humidity!).


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