Liquid Diet: A New Year’s stroll down Hemingway lane

The older I get, the less I care about New Year’s Eve (NYE). When I was younger, it was all about excess — especially when it came to the booze. It was like I couldn’t get it in me fast enough. Beer, liquor, whatever. Bottle, bottle, shot, smash. Pound it. Get crushed. For NYE in Grade 12, three of my friends and I each purchased a 40-pounder of hard liquor: two bottles of vodka, one of gin and one of white rum. The plan was to start at noon and drink three ounces an hour until midnight. That would take us to 36 ounces by countdown, leaving four to be consumed in the wee hours of 2002. I don’t think any of us maintained that pace, though the night ended in a hazy blur with one of my friends humping the Christmas tree to the ground and sleeping on it.

That experience set the stage for the NYEs of my first few college years and my early 20s. But then my mid-20s rolled around and, while preparing for yet another Dec. 31 celebration, I realized I couldn’t remember a damn thing from the several NYEs that had preceded it — not a damn thing. I decided it was time to ramp it back a bit. Moderate amounts of one main beverage, whether beer, wine or rye and ginger, as well as cheap champagne became the norm.

This past NYE, I took a slightly different approach. I wanted to experience a cocktail I’d never had before — one that I could concoct with care and enjoy with pride. So I did some research and discovered La Floridita daiquiri — the daiquiri believed to have been preferred by Hemingway during his time in Cuba.

The recipe calls for two ounces of either Cuban or Dominican rum, which was convenient, as I had just returned from the Dominican a couple of weeks prior with 705-millilitre bottle of Ron Barceló gran añejo (extra aged) rum (I paid US$30 for it in the Dominican duty free). A teaspoon of maraschino liqueur makes up the other booze component, and I found a 375-millilitre bottle of Schloss Kirsch at the B.C. Liquor Store ($25.99). I was surprised, but not disappointed, to see the Schloss Kirsch boasts a 40 per cent alcohol content. Beyond that, juice from half a lime (unless it’s a small lime; then use all of it) and a teaspoon of sugar (which can be increased if the beverage is too tart) round out the ingredient list. And a daiquiri wouldn’t be a daiquiri without blended ice.

On NYE, I brutally bastardized La Floridita. First of all, I went to a friend’s for a potluck and forgot the recipe, so I wasn’t sure on the measurements. Secondly, I had neither crushed ice nor natural lime, so I had to use cubes and concentrated lime juice. Lastly, I was pouring in ounce-for-ounce rum and liqueur, which wasn’t right at all. The resulting cocktail was bitter and unrewarding, though quite strong. I became drunk off the high alcohol content and my own disappointment, and I vowed to mix a proper La Floridita daiquiri soon.

About a week later, in the comfort and with the amenities of my own kitchen, I tried to emulate ol’ Hemingway once more. I measured out the appropriate amount of rum and maraschino liqueur, and I used the juice of one full, natural lime. But the kicker came in the form of the ice, which I blended in my Magic Bullet. The beverage still carried a sharp tartness, triggering my salivary glands and making me pucker, but its slushy consistency softened the citrus hit. The combination of amber rum and lime juice took on a murky, tangerine colour. It smelled of the Caribbean. Because of the tartness, a rimmer of either sugar or salt would compliment this daiquiri well. I drank La Floridita from a martini glass and imagined Hemingway sipping on one while on the balcony of his old haunt, Havana’s La Florida Bar, from whence this drink got its name. It made me think of the summer.

My discovery of La Floridita may have come from a New Year’s desire to drink something new, but cocktail-inspired time travel — in this case, to Hemingway-era Cuba — shouldn’t be reserved for the holidays. I think I’ll visit 1940s Havana again once the weather warms.

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