Mastering Don’s Special Daiquiri With Daniele Dalla Pola

In "Masters of Tiki,” we spotlight bartenders chasing perfection in one drink. Here, Daniele Dalla Pola on Donn Beach's update to the classic Daiquiri.

As the foundation of nearly every drink in the tiki canon, the Daiquiri occupies a rarefied position; it’s requisite elements—rum, lime, sugar—have sparked countless variations, from the Shark’s Tooth to the Missionary’s Downfall, which have, in turn, become objects of fascination in their own right.

For Daniele Dalla Pola, one particular variation has held his attention for years: Don’s Special Daiquiri. “The Daiquiri is my favorite cocktail,” says Dalla Pola, owner of Nu-Lounge Bar in Bologna, Italy, and the forthcoming Esotico, a tropical-inspired bar in Miami’s Arts & Entertainment District. “I was interested in seeing the evolution,” he explains of his years-long fascination with the cocktail’s successor, which has featured on the Nu Lounge menu since it opened, in 2000.

A 1970s update on the 1930s variant known as the Mona Daiquiri, Don’s Special might more accurately be described as a Daiquiri twice removed. When Donn Beach first created the Mona, in 1934, he called on a base of 30-year-old Meyer’s Mona rum—for which the drink is named—and further amended the formula with the addition of both passionfruit and honey syrups. Following the discontinuation of Mona rum in 1947, Beach—true to his personal mantra that what one rum can’t do, several can—altered the recipe by calling on a blend of gold Jamaican and light Puerto Rican rums, resulting in Don’s Special Daiquiri.

For Dalla Pola, who plans to also feature the drink at Esotico when it opens this winter, there was still room for improvement. “At the beginning, I just made the original recipe, but I didn’t like it much because the honey mix is too weak,” he says in reference to the drink’s equal-parts honey syrup. After a period of trial and error that included several iterations of honey syrup with varying ratios and ingredients—including allspice berries and vanilla—he did away with it entirely, opting instead for agave nectar. “Agave gives me a good smoky flavor and I like the texture,” he explains.

Texture likewise informed his decision to switch the passionfruit syrup for passionfruit purée. With lower water content than syrup, purée provides “round texture and good consistency,” says Dalla Pola. Plus, he adds, “it’s easy to make.”

The most notable change, however, is the choice of rum. Where the original calls on a light Puerto Rican rum, Dalla Pola—in a nod to the Mona Daiquiri—opts for an expression with some age to it, namely Bacardi Ocho. “People who understand appreciate it,” Dalla Pola explains of his subtle gesture towards the drink’s forebear. While he doesn’t stray from the Jamaican rum component, Dalla Pola does include an unorthodox half-ounce of spiced rum, which, he says, “gives a kick to the cocktail.” 

Though it represents a departure from the original Don’s Special Daiquiri blueprint, the construction remains largely the same. “The framework has not changed,” assures Dalla Pola. “Sweet, sour, rum: It’s a magic formula.”

Daniele Dalla Pola Makes Don's Special Daiquiri

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