I like it hot. It’s been a long, sizzling summer so far, and I’m loving it. I’m not a girl for air-conditioning. I like it sultry and sweaty, with a refreshing, iced cocktail to cool me down. Light rum is a great spirit for the hot summertime, and what else but the cocktail that was created for sweltering, sexy, Cuban nights: the mojito. From my bartender point of view, they are messy, time-consuming, overall kind of a pain to make, and way too many customers order them. But as a sweaty consumer craving something thirst-quenching, I think they are perfect.
Who was the genius that thought of this refreshing fizzy combination with rum, sugar, lime, mint and soda anyways? The earliest tale involves a remedial beverage popular in the 1500s called “El Draque,” named after the infamous English sea captain Sir Francis Drake. After the battle of Cartagena de Indias in 1586, Sir Francis Drake set sail from present day Columbia with a crew suffering from scurvy and dysentery. They made a little pit stop in Cuba to see what sort of medicines the locals could provide, and came back aboard with a spirit called aguardiente (a simple distillation of whatever fermented products are available locally, in Cuba’s case, cane sugar) mixed with lime, mint, and sugar to disguise the taste. This was great for his sailing crew: mint prevented nausea, the lime warded off scurvy, and the “El Draque” was born.
Others contend that the mojito was created by African slaves working in the sugarcane fields, looking to flavor their cheap rum. However it was created, it emerged in the same way as many classic cocktails, to cover up substandard spirits. Superior quality spirits are a relatively new thing, so most classic cocktail recipes that we now love originally emerged in a simple effort to make bad liquor drinkable. Think undergrad jungle juice.
I’ve had plenty of great mojitos in South Florida and the Bahamas, but like most of us born after the embargo, I haven’t made it to Cuba yet. The number one place on my bars-to-go-to list for a mojito is The Bodeguita del Medio in Old Havana, the supposed birthplace of the mojito. According to legend, bartenders created the cocktail for Ernest Hemingway, as a variation of his known favorite, the daiquiri. Supposedly, Hemingway even left a quote on the wall: “My mojito in La Bodeguita, my daiquiri in El Floridita.” Sounds catchy, but even the founder has admitted he was never a regular. Still, good enough for Nat King Cole and Pablo Neruda, confirmed regulars, good enough for me.
When it comes to the recipe for a mojito, it’s a little complicated. Potency of mint varies, as well as tartness of lime, so you may always have to adjust to taste. And get crazy with the mint garnish. The more mint you garnish with, the more of the aroma is in your face – heightening your experience with the cocktail. The mint typically used in a mojito is spearmint, which is conveniently very easy to grow. Also, muddle the spearmint gently to release the essential oils. Over-muddling may release the bitter flavor of chlorophyll from the mint leaves, giving your mojito a grassy taste.
The mojito is considered a highball, or a cocktail that is composed of a spirit with a larger proportion of non-alcoholic mixer. It is also, appropriately, served in a highball style glass. The Fizz highball glass from Clink Barware is a beautiful, hand-blown, timeless glass to serve mojitos to guests using your homegrown spearmint. If you are going for that James Bond-style mojito (it’s the drink he offers Halle Berry in “Die Another Day” after she struts out of the ocean in that smoking orange bikini), try the Bachelor highball glass from Clink, classy and with a monogram. Whichever style highball you go with, here’s the classic recipe to go in the glass. Happy National Mojito Day!
1 ½ oz. White Rum
5-6 Leaves of Mint
1 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
2 teaspoons Sugar
Preparation: Gently muddle mint leaves with sugar and lime juice. Add rum and ice, and top with soda water. Garnish with a large sprig of mint leaves.