MIAMI, Florida — The long election season in finally over and it feels like the stakes have never been higher. The country is facing transformative months ahead, and while little has been decided just yet, we could all use a drink.
We made ourselves comfortable at downtown Miami's Lilt Lounge, where master mixologists Dean Feddaoui and Spencer Taliaferro showed us the basics of making a familiar classic feel completely new and great.
Similar to the caipirinha, a true daiquirí is a fairly straightforward cocktail. Feddaoui would rather everyone forget the frozen red, blue, green concoctions that muddled its image.
"Rum, sugar, lime; very simple," says Feddaoui. "[To paraphrase] what Charles Mingus always said, making the simple complicated is a common thing, but making the complicated simple that's genius."
Taking its name from Cuba's Daiquirí mines, American engineer Jennings Cox is credited with its invention. But it was Constantino Ribalaigua Vert, the barman in Havana's El Floridita, who put it on the map - though it didn't hurt that Ernest Hemingway was his best customer.
Lilt has its own take on the famous Hemingway daiquirí Constantino created. In addition to the traditional Luxardo maraschino cherry liqueur and grapefruit juice, they add Aperol for bitterness, ginger for sweetness, and their own aged rum blend.
"You're going to pull different notes - vanilla, spices — it just depends on the rum," explains Telifierro. "Every rum has its own special beauty depending on how you use it."
Peruvian/Chilean Pisco Sour
When it comes to pisco's origins, historians can agree the word comes from the Quechua word for "birds" - pischo or pisko, but that's about it. Both Peru and Chile claim the brandy distilled from grapes as their own and the centuries old argument is not likely to be settled soon.
Controversy aside, pisco is slowly gaining a following in the United States. This is partly due to distilleries exporting single-varietal and single village piscos produced with artisinal methods. "It was a misunderstood spirit with a harsh facade, almost grappa-ish," explains Feddaoui. "But really when you get into it, it's absolutely beautiful and versatile."
Most Americans encounter it for the first time as a pisco sour blended with lemon juice, simple syrup, and a beaten egg white that settles into forthy top layer. Taliaferro gives traditional sours made with Peruvian pisco two shakes - one to emulsify the egg white and second with ice. As an alternative, they add St. Germain and crème de violette to bring out the floral notes but choose a Chilean pisco instead. With so many options, there's no reason to play favorites.
Long under the shadow of her louder, brasher cousin the margarita, the Paloma is one of Mexico's most popular tequila cocktails. Little more than a strong dose of tequila and a dash of grapefruit soda like Squirt or Jarritos, no one really knows where she came from, though her name may have been inspired from the popular 19th century habanera, whose tune you've definitely heard: La Paloma.
With this kind of blank canvas, it's hard not to look for ways to embellish. At Lilt, they incorporated a few drops of honey topped with a grapefruit hopped blood orange beer by Funky Buddha. But they warn agains taking it too far. "Any cocktail you put a twist on, you have to keep the soul of that cocktail," warns Feddaoui.
Caipirinhas are synonymous with cachaça, Brazil's national spirit distilled from fermented sugar cane juice that came to New World with Portuguese sailors in 1532. Traditionally, a caipirinha is a blend of cachaça, lime, and sugar, shaken with ice, then strained into a glass.
But with so few elements, you want to handle them gently. Taliaferro suggests pressing the limes instead of muddling them with the sugar to avoid releasing the bitter oils in the peel. A good shake with ice will give you all the juice you need without crushing them. "It's all spirit," he explains.
Cachaça was mostly known as a light, unaged spirit in the United States, but that's starting to change.
"It's so deep in the Brazilian culture that every village has their own cachaça, their heritage, and pride in how they make it," says Feddaoui. More complex cachaças are starting to come to market stateside and there's no reason not to add them to your favorite cocktail.
The caipirinha at Lilt uses Avuá Cachaça aged in amburana wood, banana liqueur, housemade ginger syrup, with elderflower tonic.
Enjoy the post-election season cocktails!