Mojito!

September 9, 2012

Last week, I blogged about Daiquiris – rum, sugar and lime. The Mojito is just a variation on this which has got mint a bit of soda added, but it has become by far the more popular of the two these days.

The Mojito has a special place in my heart. It’s the drink that got me interested in cocktails in the first place. This was just two years ago.

FLASHBACK!

1989. I’m at university in Wellington. Two-for-one cocktails at the Southern Cross – Grasshoppers, Fluffy Ducks and other weak, creamy, sweet concoctions. The odd occasion where we’d pool funds and have a ‘cocktail night’ (Grasshoppers, Fluffy Ducks and other weak, creamy, sweet concoctions.)

FAST FORWARD

It’s the mid-90s. We’re too into goatee’d slacker hip to drink beer. Lounge music is in. We’ve been told that the true retro cool is a Martini (made with Bombay Sapphire) so dry that the vermouth is just used to wash the ice, or waved in the direction of France. We obligingly become cocktail drinkers, but go no further than this height of sophistication because where else is there to go?

FAST FORWARD

2010. I’m in Taiwan and thankfully haven’t had an extra-dry (or any) Martini for over a decade. My knowledge of cocktails is limited to insisting that a Martini is only made with gin (not vodka) and always stirred (not shaken). I couldn’t name you the ingredients of a Manhattan or a Daiquiri. And I’d never heard of a Mojito.

Septmeber 2010. I’m watching back episodes of Burn Notice. It’s a fun show. Not too sophisticated, for sure, but it goes down easy. And what’s that drink Sam Axe keeps drinking called a Mojito? It looks nice and refreshing.

Moon Festival, September 2010. For a Mid-Autumn Festival I invite the Taiwanese in-laws and a good Aussie friend over for a BBQ on the roof. Having avidly researched the Mojito on the Internet for days (OK, watched a bunch of YouTube videos), I get the Bacardi ready, and mix my first cocktails since student days. They went down well all round.

Summer 2011. Round for afternoon’s drinking at a friend’s house, I try making Mojitos again. By this time, I know that it’s a very popular drink in America, and am becoming aware that there’s a big developing cocktail scene that’s been going on for a good few years. And now I have Havana Club. The Mojitos go down even better. My drinking mates, despite being staunch Republicans who should really oppose trade with Cuba, agree that the Havana Club is much nicer than Bacardi.

Present Day

Now, I’ve drunk quite a few Mojitos in bars and I’ve researched a lot of recipes. I don’t claim to be an expert, but I think there’s a lot of bad Mojitos out there. Here’s my advice:

The Top Five Mistakes Made When Mixing Mojitos

1. Using Bacardi. Bacardi is not Cuban rum anymore. It’s too weak, and not that nice. Havana Club is much nicer. Matusalem Platino is also good if you can’t buy true Cuban.

2. Over-muddling the mint. You don’t need to muddle it at all really, if you follow the recipe below. If you do muddle, just lightly press. You just want the essential oils and juices, not the bitterness which comes from a real muddling.

3. Adding too much soda. Use crushed ice so that’s there’s little room for much ice. Then just a splash on top to fill the glass. It’s just to give it a little fizz and sparkle. It wakes the drink up.

4. Shaking. When I’ve had Mojitos in bars they’ve always been shaken. This is just wrong.

5. Muddling the limes. OK, a bit controversial – Mojitos look nice with wedges in the bottom. Problem is, you have no control over the quantity. Limes differ a lot in how much juice they give out (even depending on whether they’re warm or just out of the fridge). ‘Muddle a lime’ is an impossibly vague direction. Good measurement = better drink.

Obligatory History of the Mojito

Possibly related to the ‘El Draque’ that Francis Drake drank. Maybe invented by slaves in Cuba. The word might come from ‘mojo’ (as in, I’ve lost my mojo, baby!) or from ‘mojado’ meaning wet, or from a lime-based seasoning called ‘mojo’. Hemingway loved them. Blah, blah. It’s pretty dull and even vaguer than usual, as far as cocktail histories go. Let’s skip to the good part.

The Mojito

2 oz Cuban rum (white)

1 oz freshly-squeezed lime juice

10-12 leaves plus one sprig of mint

2 tsp superfine (castor) sugar

Stir the sugar with the lime juice in the bottom of a highball or Collins glass to dissolve it.

Fill the glass about a third with finely crushed ice. (In the video below, he sticks the ice into a shaker and beats the hell out of it with his muddler. I put it in a laundry bag and beat the hell out of it with a rolling pin).

Take your 10-12 mint leaves (or so), rip them in half, rub them over the rim of the glass and drop them in. Use a long bar-spoon to push them down through the ice and stir with the lime and sugar. This abrasive action works instead of muddling to release the flavours of the mint.

Now add your rum, and fill to the brim (or over) with more crushed ice.

Top up with what should be a very small amount of soda (if you’ve filled the glass with nicely crushed ice). Stir lightly to mix in the effervescence of the soda and bring the mint leaves up a little.

Grab a nice big (and pretty) sprig of mint. Give it a slap in the palm of your hand to release its scent. Stick it in the top of the drink.

Serve with a straw that’s just the right length so that your nose is right over that mint when you drink it.

Smile.

Acknowledgements

The video below is one of the first I watched when researching Mojitos the first time, and it’s pretty much exactly what I’ve come back to. I’ve learnt from my mate Bunnyhugs and a few other sources that this is also how the best bars in Cuba make them, with two exceptions.

Firstly, they don’t usually use crushed ice in Cuba unless they’re playing to tourist tastes. There’s a story that they used to, but stopped when ice became expensive or crushed ice was nationalized by Castro or all the blenders had been pillaged for spare car parts or something. Nonetheless, I think this drink is vastly superior with crushed ice.

Secondly, although they often use the spearmint we use, they also use a native variety called yerba buena. I have no idea how much of a difference this makes. Just don’t use peppermint.

Variations

I’m perfectly happy with my Mojito recipe and don’t feel like messing around trying different ones. There were a couple of things I decided to try though:

Bitters: I was reminded that it is kind of traditional to sometimes serve Mojitos with a dash of Angostura Bitters. I tried it side-by-side with a ‘regular’. It was alright, but I prefer the clean taste, and perhaps even more importantly the clean look) of the original. Then, as I love the Fees Brothers line of bitters, I couldn’t help but buy their mint bitters and try that. I bought the bitters and tasted them. I was very disappointed. They tasted just like some strong artificial peppermint flavouring. I dashed some in a Mojito anyway. Surprisingly, it worked fairly well, and was nowhere near as strong as I had feared. It’s certainly not worth rushing out and buying mint bitters for though.

Agricole: The other thing I couldn’t help but try was mixing a Mojito with my old favourite Neissons Rhum Agricole. This stuff is miles away from the clean crisp cuban Havana Club rum, so it’s a very different drink. Nice enough, if you’re an Agricole fan like me, but really, it’s no Mojito.

Here’s a great Mojito video:

Part 2: Mint Juleps

Part 3: Smashes

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11 Responses to “Mojito!”

  1. benedictchapman Says:

    You aren’t being disparaging about martinis are you? All that fuss back in the day about diluting out the vermouth until you’re drinking straight gin was a bit embarrassing, but the martini – ice-cold and well balanced – remains the cocktail of cocktails.

    I have a feeling that the mojito is riding a bit of a fad. It is a lovely drink and all, but the emergence of the gin-jito, mexi-jito and basil-jito bring to mind the various xx-tinis that have risen and fallen. I wonder if in ten years time you’ll be blogging about your embarrassment at drinking minty rum soft drinks back in the 20-teens.

    • theboolion Says:

      Hell no I’m not disparaging Martinis. I’ve been drinking them a lot lately (blog post to come). I’m (almost fondly) disparaging the way we used to drink them, with Bombay and little to no vermouth. It’s a positive really when an old favourite can become so much better than you remembered.

      As for the ‘-tini -ization’ of the Mojitos. I see it. No Vodka-jitos! If it’s not rum, it’s not a Mojito.

  2. benedictchapman Says:

    Regarding variations on the mojito, do you have any other rums you could try it with apart from the agricole? It might go well with a Jamaican rum. (My rum of choice is Stolen, because it’s an NZ label, but is apparently made in a Jamaican style. I also have a golden Appleton Estate that I use for my mai tais, so one way or another I will be drinking Jamaican mojitos this summer.)

    Also, if you are going to try to be true to its Cuban origins, you might want to use less mint. I think Cuban mint is milder. And 10–12 leaves just sounds like a lot anyway. And if the Cubans drink like the rest of the Caribbean, then they like to drink a lot in the heat and make the rum go a long way. I suspect that a Cuban mojito is a rather more delicate drink.

    • theboolion Says:

      It depends what you mean by delicate. A Mojito with dark Jamaican rumour might be smoother, but I really believe it has to be the crisp clear Cuban white to get that real ‘Mojito-fresh’ taste.

      Less mint? Well, the way I lightly muddle the mint means a lot goes a little way. It’s really just an accent, and making Juleps, smashes and various other mint drinks the last couple of weeks, that’s the way I think it should be.

      • benedictchapman Says:

        The two paragraphs of my comment were actually supposed to be quite separate thoughts; I wasn’t suggesting using Jamaican rum for a more delicate mojito. I don’t personally see the virtue in a delicate mojito and I think a Jamaican rum would give you a deeper flavour, not any better than a smooth Cuban rum, but not as extreme as the mojito made with rhum agricole.

  3. putneyfarm Says:

    Great post (and yes, the mint bitters are nasty) but you are right about limiting the socda and being easy on the mint.

    Just an FYI- Mixology Monday is back- thought you might enjoy it- Here is a link, if interested..

    http://cocktailvirgin.blogspot.com/2012/09/mixology-monday-announcement.html

  4. theboolion Says:

    Ben, how’s that Stolen Rum, then? II think I may have heard good things about it. No good Jamaican rum here, so I could pick up a bottle on my next visit back to NZ. Worth it?


  5. […] A couple of weeks ago, I posted about one of my very favourite drinks, the Mojito. […]


  6. […] post is the last in a short trilogy on mint, following Mojitos and […]


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