Daiquiris always seem to be in a state of motion. From the mechanical swirl of their dispensers, the great majority are served to go, ready to be toted around into the night or under the hot sun.
This weekend, the annual New Orleans Daiquiri Festival moves them back to center stage, simultaneously affirming their place in the local drinking culture and advocating for the particular pleasure of partaking in these icy, boozy beverages outdoors.
“We’re celebrating its existence,” Daiquiri Festival founder Jeremy Thompson said. “We’re not trying to reinvent the daiquiri. We just want to bring new attention to it.”
The festival is a signature event of Thompson’s marketing and production firm Openhouse New Orleans Co. It began in 2011 with a few dozen people touring daiquiri shops in a party bus and became a small festival the following year, drawing about 750 people on what turned out to be a rainy summer day. In 2013, attendance jumped to 2,000, and this year, the Daiquiri Festival will be a two-day event.
There’s a music lineup of 11 bands, food trucks, midway-style carnival games, an all-ages, make-your-own sno-ball station and appearances from the “Who Daiq?! Flava Girls,” a troupe of dancers costumed to represent various daiquiri flavors (Miss Jungle Juice, Miss Pina Colada, etc.).
Three banks of daiquiri machines will dispense an array of flavors, including daiquiri shop standards and others whipped up with a few more higher-shelf ingredients. Louisiana-made spirits will be the star players, for instance, including product from event sponsors Old New Orleans Rum, Rougaroux Rum, made in Thibodaux, and Roman Candy Rum, which was introduced this year from a New Orleans company with family ties to the Roman Candy Co., best known for its iconic mule-drawn candy cart.
This year, the Daiquiri Festival also comes with a boozy dose of activism.
Thompson, 32, moved to New Orleans in 2009 from New York, where he had been working in marketing and consulting with bars and liquor brands. He was immediately struck by how frozen daiquiris seemed to have a niche in New Orleans that was both pervasive but unheralded, and it segued with his new-found fascination for the city’s go-cup customs.
“You’re walking down the street, drink in hand, feeling on top of the world. And it’s not just the drink. It’s this libertine freedom,” he said. “The daiquiri is just the loudest, most outspoken poster boy for the go-cup and the outdoor drinking culture here. That’s hardbound but also delicate. You can’t just assume that will never change. Nothing stays on the table for good unless you keep it there.”
This kind of evangelism for al fresco alcohol consumption made Thompson and his festival something of a lightning rod in a controversy that developed last summer over go-cups. Sizing up the growing number of special caveats and restrictions on go-cup distribution by restaurants and bars, some fretted that City Hall and civic groups were trying to phase them out of common usage. Eventually, the City Council felt compelled to make a public pronouncement that New Orleans has “no blanket prohibition of go-cups” while noting that the new raft of “provisos protect nearby residents from unnecessary trash in front of their homes by patrons of restaurants and bars.”
In response, Thompson is now pitching a reuse-and-recyclable angle for the go-cup in general and the daiquiri container in particular. LifeCity, a local consulting firm for sustainability issues, is working with OHNO Co. on this year’s Daiquiri Festival, which will distribute drinks in sturdy, reusable plastic cups, make recycling stations available and offer membership cards for LifeCity’s discount program at local businesses that embrace sustainable practices.
As for the future of the daiquiri, Thompson has big ideas. He wants to see Carnival krewes develop their own signature daiquiris, he thinks a documentary (or “daiq-umentary”) is in order and he argues that officially rebranding hurricane season as “daiquiri season” in New Orleans could attract more tourists during the summer slump. In fact, when the famous El Floridita bar in Havana garnered international headlines in 2012 for making “the world’s largest daiquiri,” Thompson saw it as a call to arms.
“I think the biggest daiquiri should be here in New Orleans,” he said. “And I think it should be in a giant go-cup.”
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.