“If you know what’s good for ya, you’ll knock it off. You don’t mess with a classic, see?” came a gruff voice from the shadows. I wasn’t worried, most of these tough guys weren’t so tough once the chips were down. “What’s it to ya, bub?” I shot back, slipping my hand in my pocket, casually, “It’s my liquor, my glass…my town.” He stepped forward into the dim glow of the streetlight, his fedora still hid his eyes but I could see the stubble on his chin when he opened his mouth to say, “Drinking can be bad for your health. A lot of guys don’t realize that…” the words just hung there, a challenge. I did not know what to do. I mean, I wasn’t scared of this two-bit character clearly imagined for an opening paragraph only to be forgotten later, but I was also in a bit off a hurry. Still, if word got out that I’d gone soft, it would be nothing but headaches from every punk with a boston shaker and a shiny new jigger. “You sure seem interested in other folks business, mister. You got any peer reviewed evidence to back up that smart mouth?” He looked me up and down. I could feel him sizing me up, trying to decide if that lump in my pocket was the proverbial banana or something more sinister. He tipped his hat back, wide-eyed, “Look, I don’t want any trouble, mister. Louie slipped me a fiver to give you that message. Honest. I’m just trying to make a living, hitting my marks and telling the truth. I didn’t mean nothing by it.” I eyed him. He looked like an honest kid, once he got over playing it the hard way. I gave him the head nod, dismissing him. As he ran away, after him, “The classics were made to be experimented with. That’s part of the charm, you fool. They are the very basis of our cocktail lexicon and if we don’t mess with them we stagnate…slowly dying…here in the fog.” But he did not hear me, he’d already moved on to the next part. Bit characters never get it, they don’t hang around long enough to learn anything. Not like us real characters, the ones with names, the kinds of guys and dolls who get mentioned in the credits as they stand and make the Daiquiri Noir.
This drink first shows up in 2008 in Sydney, Australia at Hugo’s Bar Pizza. It was a swanky joint, that catered to the glamorous set looking to get away from the clubs along King’s Cross for a drink and a slice. Sadly, they’ve closed their doors and moved on to another restaurant concept in the posh part of town. I’ve seen it a million times. Times change, people change too. You move on. I have no idea why this one is called a Daiquiri Noir. I just don’t see the connection. If you threw some squid ink in there to make it a literally “dark” daiquiri, I’d get that. If Sam Spade had ordered a daq made with mint and honey, I’d see that connection, but he was more of a whiskey on the rocks with a splash of remorse sort of guy. Maybe the recipe for this cocktail is the stuff dreams are made of and was the real treasure hidden inside the Maltese Falcon. I simply don’t know and the history books don’t tell us. So, let’s skip the small talk and make the damned thing to see if we can find any clues there.
Grab your tins, the heavy ones, there may be trouble ahead. Slip down the front stairs and quietly pick a handful of mint from the front garden. Try not to be seen. Toss some of that mint, 7 or 8 leaves should be plenty into your small tin and go over it with a muddler. You don’t have to get too rough, just muddle it till it begins to talk. Don’t forget that mint speaks in scent, so when you get things smelling good, lay off. Put the squeeze on a fresh lime, till it gives up 1/2 an ounce and toss that in there with 2 ounces of dark rum, I went with Smith + Cross, but you might want something a little less present. Follow that up with 1/2 an ounce of Drambuie herbal scotch liqueur and 1/4 ounce of rich simple syrup. Toss in some ice and give it a good shake to the beat of the classic “Harlem Nocturne“, I know most folks would go with Duke Ellington here, but I’ve always preferred the Illinois Jacquet version and we are all about variations today. When your tins are well chilled, double strain into a Nick & Nora and toss a sprig of mint in there for good measure. Be sure to do this nonchalantly, it makes a difference.
I knew it. The clues were all there, right in front of us the whole time. This is a damned nice variation on the classic Daiquiri. Like any daq, your choice of rum is going to make a huge difference. I pushed it a little too hard with the Smith + Cross, that Navy strength, strong in your face hogo banana funkiness pushes through too much. Not really out of balance, it just comes on too strong, kinda like the Bastion Overproof Daiquiri, but not as elegantly. I remade it with a nice Havana Club Especial and it was a much better drink. I guess she was right, sometimes, you’ll catch more honey with flies. Speaking of honey, that Drambuie and mint combo is really nice. The herbal honeyed edge of that scotch liqueur blends perfectly with the mint to bring this drink a lot of depth and interest. It’s a nice change up from the standards, definitely fun for a seasonal menu.
So, we go round and round chasing our tails, trying to make sense of it all. Why did they call this one Noir? A charged term, evoking all those wonderful old, black and white movies with that low-key lighting and unbalanced compositions we love so well. Technically, “noir” means dark in French and was used to describe the hard boiled detective stories of the 40’s and 50’s that used this particular style, heavily influenced by German Expressionist cinematography. Sounds simple, right? Well, it is not. There are literally reams of articles, or whatever the digital equivalent of reams are, discussing this surprisingly contentious debate. It seems like it is way easier to describe what is not noir than what is. Even when folks agree on which elements would make a film noir, they will disagree on what time period the film must come from to be eligible. I’m not getting into that and I am sure that the creator of this cocktail wasn’t thinking that far ahead. In fact, I am probably overthinking this thing entirely. It is way more likely that while they were building this cocktail, the bartender asked his friend, recently arrived from French Morocco, what it needed. Reflecting, Captain Renault suggested “Rum, mon ami. What this drink needs is rum. Not the clear stuff, some rum noir.” Yeah, that is way simpler and almost certainly what happened. Shame the kid from the first paragraph didn’t stick around to see the mystery solved, but he’s probably already off macguffining his way through some other story. Kid’s gotta make a living, right? Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.