Guest Bartender Andra “AJ” Johnson’s Perfect Daiquiri cocktail image


Guest Bartender Andra “AJ” Johnson’s Perfect Daiquiri

From our first-ever guest bartender Andra “AJ” Johnson, this cocktail is fun, funky, and impeccably balanced. In other words, it’s a Perfect Daiquiri.

At the moment, bars aren’t really a thing. And, while we can’t help you distill your own alcohol or get your home licensed as a cocktail lounge, we can bring some talented bartenders (and their signature drinks) to you. Our first-ever Guest Bartender is Andra Johnson (or AJ, for short), who serves as partner and bar director at Serenata in Washington, DC.

AJ started working in restaurants at age 14, she’s a Cicerone Certified Beer Server as well as a Level I in the Court of Master Sommeliers, and she’s currently working on a project called White Plates, Black Faces, addressing the cultural neglect of Black people in the restaurant industry. To learn more about AJ and what she’s up to these days, check out this piece she did for Zagat Stories.

Now, onto the drink. 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. Instead of plain simple syrup, for example, this cocktail calls for coconut simple syrup - a next-level ingredient that’s surprisingly easy to make.

Guest Bartender Andra “AJ” Johnson’s Perfect Daiquiri cocktail image

photo credit: Emily Schindler

This drink also calls for two kinds of rum: Clairin Vaval from Haiti and Clement Premiere Blanc from Martinique. AJ describes Clairin Vaval as “punchy and driven by earthy textures on the nose,” while Clement Premiere Blanc is “refined but with an added layer of fermentation” that lends some extra depth to the cocktail. Both are distilled from fresh sugarcane juice (as opposed to molasses), and both bring a level of funk to the Daiquiri to help balance the sweetness of the coconut simple syrup.

Finally, there’s also paint. Yes, paint. It’s edible paint - spiced with cloves, star anise, and lemongrass - and it functions as a garnish for the outside of your glass, because sometimes you want a cocktail both inside and outside of your drink. It’s great for parties, and it’s perfect for when you want to have a rum-fueled arts and crafts night with your friends or roommates. So the next time you need a fun drink that also happens to be unfathomably delicious, you know exactly what to make.

You’ll Need:

(Yields 1 cocktail)

For The Coconut Simple Syrup:

(Yields 32 ounces)

  • 16 oz coconut water

  • 2 cups white sugar

For The Spiced Lemongrass Paint:

(Yields 32 ounces)

  • 1.5 lemon peels

  • 2 whole star anise

  • 5 cloves

  • 3 stalks lemongrass

  • 2.5g pectin

  • 16 oz water

  • 2 cups white sugar

  • Yellow food coloring

Step One: Spiced Lemongrass Paint

We’re going to start things off by making a batch of AJ’s Spiced Lemongrass Paint. It’s entirely edible and not suited for landscapes, portraits, or the side of your home - and you’re going to want to make this at least 24 hours in advance, in order to let the pectin set.

To get our paint started, add 16 ounces water and two cups of sugar to a medium-sized pot, and heat these ingredients on low. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, then add 1.5 lemon peels, 3 lemongrass stalks cut into thirds, 2 whole star anise, and 5 cloves. Bring everything to a boil, stirring intermittently, and, once the mixture is boiling, lower the temperature, and let it simmer.

After 8-10 minutes of simmering, add 2.5g (or roughly 1 teaspoon) of pectin - a gelling agent used in jams and found in most grocery stores - slowly and in a steady stream. Be sure to keep stirring, or the mixture will clump together, and you’ll feel a sense of defeat. Once the pectin is incorporated, remove from heat and strain. Let this syrup cool, then add yellow food coloring (or whatever color you prefer), and stir until the color is evenly distributed. Finally, take a small paintbrush, apply some paint to the outside of your glass, and use it as an adhesive to stick a “floating” mint leaf on the side.

Step Two: Coconut Simple Syrup

Next, we’re going to make some coconut simple syrup - and, if you’re concerned that you might spend all night in your kitchen, this step is considerably quicker. Just put 16 ounces coconut water and 2 cups white sugar in a medium-sized pot, heat these ingredients on low, stirring constantly. Do not let this mixture boil, and remove it from the heat once the sugar is dissolved. When it cools down, add .75 ounce to your shaker (and store the rest in your fridge).

Step Three: Lime Juice

Nothing complicated about this step. Just find a lime, juice it, and add .75 ounce to your shaker.

Step Four: Rum

As we mentioned earlier, your typical Daiquiri only calls for a standard white rum - but here we’re going to use two kinds of rum for balance, complexity, and just a little bit of funk. We’ll start with the Clement Premiere Blanc Rhum - which is a rhum agricole from Martinique, distilled from fresh sugarcane juice. Add .75 ounce to your shaker. Next, you need .75 ounce of Clairin Vaval. Similar to rhum agricole, clairin is a subcategory of rum made from fresh sugarcane juice (as opposed to molasses), but instead of Martinique, clairin is produced in Haiti.

Step Five: Shake & Strain

Finally, add five or six ice cubes to your shaker, and shake everything vigorously for about 15 seconds. Once you’re finished, strain your cocktail into your pre-painted coupe. For extra credit, use a fine strainer in addition to a Hawthorne strainer. This is called “double straining,” and it’s something bartenders do to ensure that no stray chunks of ice or other ingredients wind up in your drink. Hopefully, you made this cocktail with at least one other person, and you should now take this time to critique the paint jobs on each others’ glasses. Be fair, yet critical, then drink your Perfect Daiquiri before it gets warm.

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