If you could, as if by magic wand, summon to appear before you the 100 most recent Frozen Strawberry Daiquiris that were made anywhere on Earth, line them up and taste them, how many do you think would be truly great? Or forget great—how many would be good?
How about passable? Tolerable? Hideous? My assumption would be that 95 of them would be vividly artificial and deathly sweet, and that’s probably a conservative estimate. Aside from the profanely named “disco drinks” from the ‘80s and ‘90s (see: Slow Comfortable Screw Up Against the Wall, ha ha, etc.) it would be hard to imagine a drink more disrespected by the vanguards of the so-called cocktail renaissance than the Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri. Cocktail bars usually just pretend it doesn’t exist. To even entertain it is a sign of unseriousness.
But why? Consider the Daiquiri—the classic, three ingredient, demure little Daiquiri, shaken and put in a coupe—which is widely understood to be among the greatest drinks ever made. Order one at a cocktail bar and the bartender will react as if you just complemented their shoes. But put it in a blender with a strawberry or two and suddenly it’s too embarrassing to acknowledge?
“If the Frozen Daiquiri has been seen as ignoble,” write Garret Richard and Ben Schaffer in their recently released Tropical Standard, “that goes 100 times for the Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri, which has served as the poster child for the despised era of syrupy, frigid booze bombs after the cocktail’s collapse.” Richard is a tiki guy, and his and Schaffer’s book is the first attempt, possibly ever, to unite the flamboyant exuberance of tiki with the methodical precision of the modernist craft movement. They point out that in the 1940s the Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri was worthy company for high society, and its fall from grace is a relatively recent phenomenon. Part of their effort is to re-induct it into the union of acceptable drinks.
To this end, Richard did all the craft stuff—fresh lime, good rum, precise sweetness—but he also had an insight, which he recently recounted on the Cooking Issues podcast with Dave Arnold. He’d been trying to recreate a slushy machine texture in a blender and failing. “Who makes the best and most consistent frozen drinks on the planet?” he asked himself, and in a flash of inspiration, the answer: “Starbucks.” A little research showed that Starbucks blends drinks with very small amounts of a common commercial food emulsifier called xanthan gum, which when added to blender cocktails, holds the ice and liquid together, giving a spectacular, almost soft-serve texture.
The sum of this yields the most satisfying Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri I (or possibly anyone) have ever had. It reveals the cocktail to be a bit like a fast-food salad or a televangelist: Just because every example you can think of is bad, it doesn’t mean it can’t be good. When you improve the texture, pay attention to the ingredients, and do some trial and error, you’ll find the Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri a wonderful summer companion, fruity and tropical and persistently cold. It has a brilliant silky texture, and the bright natural sweetness of the berries kept in check by the lime, rum, and chill. This version is, even if it’s just one of the last 100 made, truly great.
Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri
Recipe adapted from Tropical Standard: Cocktail Techniques & Reinvented Recipes
- 2 oz. rum
- 0.75 oz. lime juice
- 1 tbsp. sugar
- 60 g (about 3 large or 4 medium) frozen strawberries
- Pinch salt
- 0.25 tsp. xanthan gum
Add rum, lime, strawberries, salt, and sugar to the blender, and blend on low without ice for about 15-20 seconds to dissolve the sugar and break up the berries. Next add the xanthan gum, and blend on low for another 10 seconds without ice to “hydrate” it. Next add 1.5 cups of crushed ice (or 170 g of ice) and blend up to high until fully smooth. Pour into a large, chilled coupe, and garnish with a sliced or whole strawberry, or a lime wheel.
NOTES ON INGREDIENTS
A note on this recipe: Blender cocktails are unusually difficult to get just right. There are differences in equipment, and in ice size and quality that are hard to account for, and with the xanthan gum even more so. The recipe in the book operates with a type of precision that usually isn’t available to home enthusiasts, so below, I’ll tell you Richard’s recommendation for each ingredient, and if and how you can adapt it to still make a great drink.
Rum: Tropical Standard calls for Uruapan Charanda Blanco Rum, a Mexican sugar-cane spirit you’ve likely never heard of, that comes in a beautiful blue bottle you’ve likely never seen. We got one to test this recipe and can confirm, yes, it makes a sublime Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri, its grassy and savory qualities anchoring the bright simple fruit while adding welcome complexity. If you like the sound of that but can’t find that particular bottle, a bold sugar-cane rum will perform a similar trick, like Copalli White from Belize, or the wonderful blanc bottlings from Martinique, like Rhum Clement Canne Bleu or Rhum J.M.
If “grassy and savory complexity” doesn’t sounds like something you want, I’d still make this, but grab a rum with some age: Mt. Gay Amber, Plantation 5, Don Q Reserva 7, really anything. The vanilla depth from the age will help fill the cocktail out. The only rums I didn’t like here were the funky Jamaican ones (which I expected) and the light, breezy Daiquiri rums (which I didn’t)—things like Plantation 3-star or Flor de Cana 4, which I absolutely love in Daiquiris, in this felt strangely hollow.
Strawberries: Strawberries must be frozen. You can take fresh strawberries, cut the tops off and freeze them if you like, but for the texture to work, they must be frozen when added to the blender. Fortunately, store-bought frozen strawberries are often flash-frozen at peak ripeness right on or near the farm, making them as good as anything for our purposes
Lime juice: Fresh, please.
Sweetness: In laying out the guidelines for great blender drinks, Richard insists on minimizing unnecessary water content. 1 tbsp of dry sugar vs. 0.75 oz. of simple syrup is a difference of about 0.5 oz. water, and when we tried them side-by-side, we did indeed notice a difference in the intensity of flavor. What’s more, Tropical Standard calls for his tablespoon of sugar to be 0.5 tbsp cane sugar and 0.5 tbsp turbinado sugar (a.k.a. “Sugar in the Raw”) which is a little precious, but does indeed improve the flavor, if subtly.
Using sugar instead of syrup adds a step (the blending without ice) but making simple syrup is a step all its own, so I’d say this: His advice to use a half-and-half sugar mix did make my favorite version, but if you wanted to use just white sugar, or just turbinado sugar, or honestly just use simple syrup, your cocktail wouldn’t suffer too much for it.
Salt: A small pinch of salt can help make the flavors pop. It’s subtle, but it’s there. For precision, professional bars tend to make a 4:1 water to salt mixture and put it in an eye dropper, and measure salt by drops—Richard calls for five drops of this here. For the avid at-home cocktail fan, this is worth doing. It’s quick and easy and lasts forever and is very precise, and you make it once and you likely won’t have to do it again for a year or more.
That said, if you just want to add a small pinch of salt, or you want to just forget it entirely, your cocktail will still be totally delicious.
Xanthan Gum: This is Richard’s big innovation, and it’s a game changer. The utter charm of the texture of the finished product is more than enough of a reward for the honestly fairly annoying xanthan gum, which can be difficult to work with especially with a blender, and produce two different results from seemingly identical attempts: Blending one will be a breeze, and then the second one will thicken slightly more so getting it all blended is a chore of shaking the pitcher and toggling the speed up and down and then shaking the pitcher some more.
Still—it’s worth it. Don’t be intimidated by the alien name, xanthan gum is incredibly common and you’ve probably had it three times this week without even knowing. You can find a small bag for less than $10 and as you’re using it 0.25 tsp at a time, it’ll last forever. Just make sure you keep to 0.25 tsp. It’s very potent. Less is more.
Ice: If you have access to uniform crushed ice, like a Scottsman or Hoshizaki pebble ice machine, it’s 1.5 cups, and you can measure by volume. As you likely don’t, Richard’s advice is to measure by weight to 170 g.
This, again, can be a lot for home enthusiasts. I’ll say this—quantity of ice is the hardest thing about perfecting blender cocktails. You can cowboy the measurements if you want, but your first few attempts might be over- or under-iced, with all the attending textural variation. You’ll get a feel for it sooner or later, or you could just measure the ice. Your call.