As we welcome our first-ever guest bartender, Andra “AJ” Johnson, we thought this would be an appropriate time to express our love and admiration for one of the all-time classics. We are, of course, speaking of the Daiquiri. This drink is over a 100 years old, and AJ - who serves as partner and bar director at Serenata in Washington, DC - has a signature version that takes the cocktail to new, frighteningly impressive heights.
But first, a bit of background. AJ started working in restaurants at age 14, and it was a goal of hers to open a restaurant by age 30. She did exactly that, and in 2017, she started a project called White Plates, Black Faces, addressing the cultural neglect of Black people in the restaurant industry. As you may have already guessed, AJ is also an incredibly skilled bartender - and if you’d like proof of this, I suggest you check out Serenata, an Afro-Latinx cocktail bar in Washington DC, where she now serves as partner and bar director. Or, if you don’t live near DC, just keep reading this newsletter, and you’ll learn how to make one of her signature cocktails.
As AJ was working on the menu for Serenata, she saw an opportunity to rediscover one of the classics. The result is her Perfect Daiquiri, and, while the term “perfect” is typically used for cocktails that have equal parts sweet and dry vermouth, here it refers to the balance of this immaculately-engineered beverage. AJ’s Perfect Daiquiri is fun and funky, with two kinds of Caribbean rum and a subtle hint of coconut - and you can watch her make one on our highlights over at @infatuation Instagram. For now, let’s go ahead and break this drink down.
A standard Daiquiris has three components: rum, lime juice, and simple syrup. AJ’s Perfect Daiquiri also has those ingredients - but it’s significantly more flavorful and complex. To start, it includes two kinds of rum: a Haitian rum called Clairin Vaval and a rhum agricole from the Martinique producer Clément. Both of these rums are distilled from fresh sugarcane juice (as opposed to molasses) and, according to AJ, Clairin Vaval is “punchy and driven by earthy textures on the nose” whereas Clément is refined but “with an added layer of fermentation” that results in a pleasant bit of funk. We, apparently, could all use some Clément in our lives.
There’s also simple syrup in this cocktail, but it’s significantly less simple than usual. You see, AJ uses coconut water (instead of plain water) for her simple syrup, and it makes me genuinely upset that I’m not the one who thought of this idea. All you do is take equal parts white sugar and coconut water, heat the mixture on your stove, then stir until everything is dissolved. What you’re left with is a simple syrup that actually brings a bit of coconut flavor to your cocktail, without overwhelming everything else.
As for the lime juice, well, AJ still uses lime juice. No need to mess with that ingredient. She does, however, have another fun twist for the drink, and it involves “paint.” Curious? You should be. Get her full step-by-step recipe below. Drink one, then make a classic Daiquiri to compare. You’ll also find some how-to guides for a Strawberry Basil Daiquiri and a Frozen Daiquiri - because sometimes you just want to feel like you’re on a beach, under an umbrella, staring at the back of your eyelids.
Guest Bartender Andra "AJ" Johnson's Perfect Daiquiri
Our guest bartender AJ brought us a signature cocktail that she refers to as the Perfect Daiquiri - but what exactly does that mean? Is it hyperbole? Is it just a cute name? Not at all. AJ’s Daiquiri is “perfect,” because it takes the elements of your typical Daiquiri, and tweaks them for added flavor and complexity - which brings a new level of balance to the drink.
By now, you’ve had ample opportunities to drink daiquiris. We know this, because there’s a handwritten daiquiri recipe that dates to the late-nineteenth century. (The author was a mining engineer in Cuba, and, allegedly, the inventor of this drink.) If, somehow, you’ve fallen behind on your daiquiri consumption, here’s how to make one. Drinks do not get more refreshing.
Strawberry Basil Daiquiri
If this drink sounds delicious, that’s because it is, and if you think it’ll be too hard for you to make, you need to boost your self-esteem. This eight-syllable cocktail is easy to make, and the only time-consuming part of this drink is the strawberry syrup which takes around 30 minutes.
Frozen Daiquiris don’t get the respect they deserve. Here’s how to make a proper one, and restore your faith in frozen drinks.