What is the Mojito and where does it come from?
The origin myth of the Mojito often credits Sir Francis Drake, the famous privateer and ruff enthusiast, with its invention. The story finds Drake on Cuba in 1586, absolutely knackered from plundering and at the command of an increasingly sickly and overheated crew. As a way to improve morale, get some fruit and greenery down everyone, and generally blow off steam Drake supposedly mixed lime and mint with some Spanish aguardente and in doing so invented the prototype for the modern mojito.
So, what do I need to make one?
Lots of crushed ice and some fresh soda water are essential. As is simple syrup, which you can buy but is just as easily made by combining two parts sugar and one part boiled water and leaving it to dissolve and cool. You’re also going to want nice, juicy, fresh limes – avoid any that are hard or small. And while you’re getting those pick up the most fresh looking mint you can, avoiding anything that’s tired or limp. Then, of course, you’ll want to think about rum.
Cuban rum is light, column distilled, spirit – like most of what you’ll find in the Spanish speaking Caribbean. Havana Club 3yo white rum is a great place to start. It’s aged in ex-Bourbon casks but the oak influence is light – exactly what you’re looking for as anything too heavy will throw your Mojito off balance. The palate has lots of pineapple, and white chocolate, with some pleasantly herbal stuff in the background that brings welcome complexity. Non-traditional but still a great choice would be Veritas, a blend of rums from Foursquare distillery in Barbados and Hampden in Jamaica.
This is serious stuff, coming to you at a respectable 47% with lots of banana, vanilla, freshly cut grass, and anise. Really the only things to avoid are super thin rums that drink like island vodka or anything really heavy. A long-aged Demerara pot-still rum is a beautiful thing but here it will only make your Mojito dark, murky, and expensive.
And how do I put it together?
The orthodox method involves picking six to eight mint leaves and muddling them with sugar to release their flavour and aroma – a couple of teaspoons of granulated is sometimes used for its abrasive qualities, but 20ml of rich syrup is easier to work with. Next add 25ml of freshly squeezed lime juice, 50ml of your chosen rum, and fill the glass with lots of crushed ice. From there you top the whole thing with soda water, give it a gentle stir to combine, and garnish with a mint sprig and/or a lime wedge if you’re feeling fancy.
Another approach involves combining 20ml of rich syrup, 25ml of lime, and 50ml of rum with six to eight healthy looking mint leaves in a cocktail shaker and shaking briefly with cubed ice. Next strain the mixture into a glass over plenty of crushed ice, top with soda, and garnish as you wish. The no-muddle method generates fractionally more washing up but makes for nicely combined ingredients and well-expressed mint.
And if I want to mix it up?
If you want to get really weird you can experiment with rums made from sugar cane juice as opposed to the more common molasses. Known as rhum agricole in the francosphere, these intensely aromatic spirits are often funky and herbaceous, making for a Mojito reminiscent of a Ti’ Punch. A good choice would be Trois Rivières Cuvée de l’Ocean from Martinique, which has a spicy and tropical character as well as a costal salinity that will be picked up nicely by your soda water.
There’s temptation to add fruit syrups, liqueurs, or other ingredients to create further variations on the Mojito. Muddling in a few seasonal berries with your mint can be nice, as can a dash of cloudy apple juice, and you sometimes see the libertine addition of Champagne in place of soda. However, such flourishes often feel like subtraction by addition and while pleasant can only take you away from the drink’s essence. Those three ingredients are meant to be the stars; mint, lime, and rum – made cold and refreshing by the ice and soda.