The Derby Daiquiri - easy to make, easy to drink

Brian Rung

    Do you ever wish that you could go back to the golden age of tiki? Perhaps walk in to a Trader Vic's or Don the Beachcomber circa 1950 and order an authentic Mai Tai?
    Until we figure out this time travel thing, fans of the grand mid-century Polynesian themed restaurant will have to make a pilgrimage to the last great hope for golden age of tiki, Fort Lauderdale's legendary Mai-Kai.
    Tiki lore is built on legendary bars, innovative bartenders and amazing rum drinks. The Mai-Kai is three-for-three and is regarded by many (including myself) as the best tiki bar in the world.
    Everyone wearing a Hawaiian shirt today knows the names Trader Vic and Donn Beach. They may not be familiar with Chicago natives Bob and Jack Thornton.  
    Bob and Jack Thornton were captivated by tiki culture as children during the 1940's during which time the Thornton family frequently visited Don the Beachcomber's Chicago location at 101 E. Walton Place.
    The Thornton brothers would go on to attend Stanford where they were regular visitors to Trader Vic's San Francisco further fueling their dream of opening a Polynesian-themed restaurant.
    After completing their military service in 1955, the brothers opened the Mai-Kai in 1956 during the post-war Florida vacation boom when roadside attractions were popping up all over the Sunshine State.
    The Mai-Kai wasn't just a bar with some bamboo décor and the occasional hula dance routine. It was an experience. It still is.
    Once you cross the wood slat bridge you will find an island escape complete with waterfalls, tropical gardens, world-class tiki drinks, authentic Polynesian artifacts and top-notch nightly Polynesian floor shows.
    Behind every great tiki bar is a great tiki bartender. Trader Vic's had Vic Bergeron, Don the Beachcomber had Donn Beach and the Mai-Kai had Mariano Licudine.
    Bob and Jack Thornton did not leave Chicago empty handed on their venture to create what would become the world's greatest tiki bar. They lured master mixologist Licudine away from the Don the Beachcomber's Chicago location giving the Mai-Kai instant credibility in the tiki world.
    Licudine built the Mai-Kai menu from tiki drinks made in the tradition of Don the Beachcomber. Don's classic Zombies, Mai Tais, Daiquiris and Grogs are still served daily in Fort Lauderdale.
    The Mai-Kai has been in continuous operation for 61 years and is the only operating establishment with a direct connection to tiki's golden era. In 2015 the Mai-Kai was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
    Licudine is credited with inventing a laundry list of tiki drinks and spin-offs of existing tiki drinks before his retirement in 1980.
    He was known for his innovative approach to the Daiquiri platform, particularly with his Derby Daiquri which put him in the national spotlight after winning a 1959 contest to create a drink to promote the Florida Derby.
    I hope that everyone has an opportunity to sip a Derby Daiquiri at Mai-Kai at some point, but if that just isn't possible we'll have to make one at home.
    Good news all around for the Derby Daiquiri. It's easy to make, easy to drink and the ingredients are easy to come by.
    Daiquiris are drinks that are often made and rarely made well. There are a few basic principles to follow when turning out a quality Daiquiri. The two keys to the Daiquiri (and every other blended drink) are flavor and consistency.
    Flavor is no-brainer. Use fresh ingredients whenever possible, mix with good rum and the end result will be a great drink.
    This means using only fresh squeezed lemon and lime juice, “100 percent juice” options if you must use canned or bottled fruit juice, and rum that doesn't taste like it belongs in your gas tank.  
    Consistency in recipes is tough to gauge in blended cocktails because blenders aren't just blenders anymore, some are super juicing vitamin extracting machines that can liquefy just about anything.
    Take this into consideration when following this, or any recipe that requires blending for any amount of time. You have to know your blender. Try not to over-blend or under-blend. The best way to do this is to pulse in five second increments, checking after each pulse until you get a feel for your machine.
    Avoid the temptation to throw large “freezer” ice cubes into your blender.  You are better off starting with crushed ice in your blender and blending less as opposed to using large ice cubes and blending more. Large ice cubes will take longer to blend, turning out a watered-down flavor with the occasional irregular chunk of ice.
    The original Derby Daiquiri used Puerto Rican rum, but genuine Puerto Rican rum has largely disappeared from the mixology landscape even though Bacardi is labeled Puerto Rican rum.
    In recipes that call for Puerto Rican rum use the entry level offerings from Cruzan, Flor de Cana or Mount Gay.
    The Derby Daiquiri is built in a blender and served in your favorite cocktail glass.
    Combine in blender:
    1 1/2 ounces light rum
    1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
    1/2 ounce simple syrup
    1 ounce fresh orange juice
    Handful of crushed ice
    Blend on high until smooth, usually 15 seconds
    Pour unstrained into cocktail glass
    Garnish with lime wheel
    Until next week, enjoy responsibly.