I owe the mighty Mojito an eternal debt of gratitude. For (around these parts at least) it was the Mojito craze of the 1990s that kick-started the cocktail revival. Indeed the Mojito was my introduction to the world of “proper” cocktails at Amsterdam’s Cafe Cuba*. I’m not sure they were technically the best Mojitos ever but they made me realise there were more things to drink than just beer and whisky. And here we are.
You can consider the Mojito to be simply a lengthened minted Daiquiri but that doesn’t really do it justice as if you look at the Mojito just the right way it might just be the oldest cocktail ever. One version of events has Sir Francis Drake accidentally inventing it in the Caribbean in 1586 to prevent his crew from getting scurvy. The problem was that rum didn’t even exist yet so while the Navy were waiting for it to be invented they made do with aguardiente (a kind of proto-rum) and called it the El Draque – which was Franky’s nickname. It worked and, sailors being sailors, the fire-water got the credit rather than the lime juice. The true Mojito evolved on Cuba in the following centuries and acquired its name which is thought be of African (because: slavery) origin meaning a little spell – think “mojo”. Quintisentially Cuban the Mojito was a favourite – along with the Daiquiri and, indeed, all other forms of booze – of Ernest Hemmingway and to this day might be the single most accessible cocktail for the un-initiated.
There’s a lot that can go wrong with a Mojito and very often it does. An incomplete list would be: inferior rum, too little rum, non-fresh lime juice, use of 7Up/Sprite as a shortcut, use of mint syrup or other bypassing of fresh mint, over-muddled/mangled mint and too much soda. And sometimes all of the above. The one that really gets my goat is the pulverising of the mint; it clogs up your straw, sticks to your teeth and loses its fresh taste and it’s just so un-necessary. Mint doesn’t need to be battered to death to release its precious oil – it does so quite willingly. Simply place 6-8 large mint leaves in your palm and clap your hands firmly a couple of times. Job’s a good ‘un. Hang on. I’m getting ahead of myself. First fill a Collins glass about 2/3 with crushed ice and set aside to chill. In an iced shaker add two ounces of white rum (IMHO if it’s anything other than Havana Club 3 Años** you’re doing it wrong), one ounce of fresh lime juice and an ounce of 1:1 simple syrup (preferably demerara). Shake and strain into the prepared glass. Now you can give the mint a clap and gently stir it in with a bar spoon. Add some soda but don’t drown it – 3 or 4 ounces at most – stir again and add a sprig of mint and a straw to finish. This way your mint should be fairly intact and floating in a nice layer of crushed ice in the upper part of your glass allowing you to sip unimpeded from the bottom of the glass. Heavenly.
2oz / 60ml Havana Club 3 Años white rum.
1oz / 30 ml fresh lime juice.
1oz / 30 ml simple syrup (or a bit under if you prefer it tart).
3-4oz / 90-120ml soda water.
6 – 8 fresh mint leaves and a sprig of mint.
Method: see text.
Optional, but possibly controversial, upgrades are to:
a) upgrade your rum to Havana Club Añejo Especial or Reserva.
b) add a dash or two of Angostura bitters
Toast Sir Francis Drake (c.1540 – 1596).
A word on mint.
Every cocktailista should have a spearmint mint plant growing at all times. Even if you only have small apartment, a little pot of mint will grow quite happily in on a sunny windowsill. The stuff grows like crazy needing just a small cup of water every morning to keep it lively (coffee for me, water for you Mr Minty). If your mint starts to get thin, dry, pale and spindly it’s done, just get a new one. Still not convinced? Well some of the very best cocktails need fresh mint as an ingredient or a garnish: Mojito, Queens Park Swizzle, Mai Tai, Zombie, Mint Julep, Southside. Exactly. You need mint. Do it. I’ll be checking on you at random.
*Still there and still churning out Mojitos at Nieuwmarkt 3, Amsterdam.
**The real stuff not some pale imitation made by Bacardi.