How the Nuclear Daiquiri, a Chartreuse Cocktail, Came to Be

Since the announcement this past January that Carthusian monks would be limiting the production of Chartreuse, those in the bar world have seen several expected consequences of the shortage: Top retailers now have purchasing limits on the herbal liqueur; a number of collectors are hoarding bottles; even certain pastry programs, like the one at New York’s Le Rock, have had to adapt, no longer able to offer a signature Chartreuse-soaked cake. 

It has also, unexpectedly, united online fans of the Nuclear Daiquiri—a cult cocktail consisting of overproof white Jamaican rum, lime, falernum and green Chartreuse—as they go in search of a fitting replacement for the drink’s most critical ingredient. 

On recent Reddit threads, one man suggests using Ver, an American-made herbal liqueur (“because who has Green Chartreuse anymore,” he writes.) Another user opts for Dolin Génépy le Chamois. A London-based bartender, meanwhile, suggests Hierbas de las Dunas liqueur. None is a precise analogue; such is the singularity of Chartreuse and the Nuclear Daiquiri, a product of London’s cocktail revival that was, until recently, a little talked-about drink outside of the bar world’s inner circles.

“There wasn’t a particularly intellectual inception story” behind the Nuclear Daiquiri, explains John Gakuru, then the bar manager at London Academy of Bartenders (LAB), where the drink was invented. LAB opened in 1996 as a training program for bartenders, before becoming a consumer-facing bar in 1999. A high-energy, high-volume spot, it would become a breeding ground for a new generation of top bartenders like Dré Masso and Andrea Montague, among others. 

Nuclear Daiquiri Recipe

Nuclear Daiquiri

A cult cocktail adds green Chartreuse to the classic rum recipe.

One young bartender trying to make his mark at the time was Gregor de Gruyther. “He was looking to deepen the Daiquiri experience and temper a very strong base spirit to retain its strength, but make it delicious,” recalls Gakuru. 

First put on LAB’s menu in 2005, the Nuclear Daiquiri debuted without much fanfare, though it certainly had early devotees who were captivated by its high-octane ingredients. “It was certainly not popular to begin with,” says Gakuru. “It’s one of those cocktails that needs to be tried several times before one accepts that it’s robust.”

De Gruyther died in a car accident in 2009, the day after his 30th birthday. At the time, the Nuclear Daiquiri was still far from ubiquitous. The drink had not been picked up by the press, and only appeared occasionally in subsequent cocktail books, notably Gary Regan’s revised The Joy of Mixology from 2018. (Even in his lifetime, de Gruyther only offered a single quote about the drink, which spoke to its unadorned appearance: “No garnish can withstand the awesome power of the Nuclear Daiquiri.”)

In 2012, however, the British steakhouse chain Hawksmoor opened an outpost in the Spitalfields neighborhood of London, offering a frozen Banana Nuclear Daiquiri on its debut menu. “It was popular and I distinctly remember making a lot of them!” recalls Adam Montgomerie, who bartended there and is now the bar manager at Hawksmoor’s Manhattan outpost. “It’s a delicious drink, but absolute rocket fuel.”

It was around the time of the Banana Nuclear Daiquiri’s arrival that the original finally began to get more widespread recognition, likely spurred by the Hawksmoor menu, which credited “the late, great Gregor de Gruyther.” The next year, in 2013, Difford’s Guide called the Nuclear Daiquiri one of the 30 best cocktails created since 2000. In 2016, when Robert Simonson launched his Modern Classics of the Cocktail Renaissance app, the Nuclear Daiquiri was one of 100 cocktails included, alongside far more ubiquitous drinks like the Paper Plane and Tommy’s Margarita. Simonson described it as “an explosive, over-the-top drink quite indicative of the style at London’s LAB bar at the time.” 

Despite rarely appearing on bar menus across the globe, the drink still has its hardcore fans. On a memorial Facebook page dedicated to the drink’s creator, friends and admirers continue to salute de Gruyther, often by drinking his most iconic cocktail, even as one of its key ingredients grows increasingly scarce. Wrote one man on his birthday this year: “Had a Nuclear Daiq the other day for the first time in years. … the memories still burn strong.”

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