Yes indeed, the Mojito is finally making its Happy Hour debut. You may have wondered what took so long--ok, so maybe you don't ponder the decision-making process of Happy Hour columns in your spare time, but I'll tell you anyway. I was waiting for the heat of the NYC summer to really unleash itself before discharging on your pallette the minty cannon of cool known as the Mojito.
Unfortunately I realized my patience might be in vain, as I've not even had occasion yet to turn on my air conditioner one time this entire year, believe it or not. At the very moment I'm writing this it is 68 degrees outside, and it's not even evening yet--a real scorcher, I know. At this rate an Indian Summer is probably the best I can hope for--but if I wanted Northern California weather I would have never left. First the insomniac bears in the Moscow Zoo in the winter, and now this?
Well, abnormal global weather patterns be damned! Mother Nature, I'm moving forward, with or without you! Besides, it's perfect timing for the Mojito, since the last two weeks I've written about two other classic Cuban cocktails, the Daiquiri and it's close cousin, the Hotel Nacional.
If a menage a trois could produce offspring with DNA from all participants, then the Mojito would be the result of a tryst between the Daiquiri, Mint Julep, and Tom Collins. It's citrusy and rummy like the Daiquiri, minty like a Julep, fizzy and tall like a Collins, and subtly sweet like them all. Thus with regard to categories of classic cocktails, the Mojito is really a hybrid of a Sour (Daiquiri), Smash (Julep), and a Fizz (Collins).
Yet while the Mojito seems to share the DNA of these drinks, it wasn't actually birthed from them. In fact the Mojito is older than the Tom Collins, and at least as old as the Daiquiri; and although the Mint Julep is a certifiable old timer in the cocktail world, some evidence suggests rum was its initial base instead of the beloved Bluegrass bourbon, which if true, brings the Mint Julep's lineage much closer to the Mojito's.
Metaphorical exercises aside, the Mojito's historical lineage is fairly settled (at least compared to other classic drinks), and is fairly old as well. According to popular lore, a drink called the Draque was created in the late 16th century in honor of Sir Francis Drake by one of his men. It consisted of mint, lime, sugar, and a cheap, harsh predecessor of modern-day rum called tafia or aguardiente ("firewater")--all ingredients commonly found in the Caribbean, which was where Drake did much of his pillaging. By the early 19th century the drink had become popular among workaday Cubans, who also referred to it as Draquecito.
At what point did the Draque or Draquecito evolve into the Mojito? Neither the precise moment nor the exact individual(s) responsible are known although evidence suggests that the Mojito arrived prior to the 20th century. Cocktail scholar David Wondrich speculates that the turning point occurred sometime after Don Bacardi set up shop, which would take somewhere in the vicinity of 1862. This seems to be a decent approximation, but not so much because of Bacardi in my opinion, although Bacardi's timing could not have been better for his sake.
Rather, the late 19th century was a time when a number of different technological advancements that were crucial to the creation of drinks like the Mojito happened to coalesce. By this time the harsh aguardiente had long given way to a much smoother spirit known as rum; consumable soda water was invented and becoming more widely available; and most importantly, commercial refrigeration systems were invented, which enabled bartenders to incorporate in their drinks what is perhaps the most important ingredient in the modern-day cocktail--ice. This innovation more than any other blew the door open on the art of mixology and catapulted bartending to a true art.
With these factors in place it was only a matter of time before someone who possessed the dangeorus combination of great thirst and creativity took the Draque and replaced the aguardiente with rum, added crushed ice and seltzer, and called it a Mojito--the name itself likely derived from the Spanish word "mojado," meaning "wet." A fitting name in my book, as that seems to be the inevitable state of my kitchen counter anytime I make one.
History always made me thirsty, so with that in mind, here's a recipe for a classic Mojito.
2 oz white rum
3 tsp caster sugar (superfine sugar, or simple syrup if you prefer)
12 mint leaves (plucked from the sprig)
2 lime quarters
plenty of crushed ice
seltzer to top
mint sprig for garnish
Tools: muddler, stirrer/straw
Glass: Collins or other highball glass (pre-chilled if you like)
Place the lime and sugar in the glass and muddle a bit to dissolve the sugar. Add the mint leaves and lightly bruise them with the muddler. Add the rum and some crushed ice and give it a good stir. Top with the seltzer, give another light stir, and pack a bit more crushed ice on top if you like (this is the part when my counter gets wet). Add the straw or stirrer, garnish with a sprig of mint, and you're done.
Unlike what you find most bartenders will do nowadays, you want to lightly bruise the leaves, not smash them, as it will release too much bitter taste when all you want is nice mint flavor. This is also why the mint leaves are better plucked from the sprig when muddling instead of left on, as the stem only contributes bitterness. And before adding the mint garnish, I like to either gently roll the sprig a bit between my hands or hold it in the palm of one hand and lightly clap my hands together a few times to release the minty aroma from the leaves, so that you get a nice nose of mint with each sip.
If you don't have an ice crusher, you can easily crush ice by wrapping the cubes in a clean towel and taking a hammer to it. It's also important to note that a straw or stirrer is a useful tool in a drink like this whose ingredients are not distributed in a cocktail shaker. Otherwise you're likely to sip a whole lot of seltzer before tasting anything else.
The Mojito is one of those hate it or love it drinks--those who get to drink it love it, and those who have to make it often hate it. It is one of those party drinks that everyone loves, except when it's your party and you have to do all the labor. While there's certainly a bit more labor involved, it's not so much so that it makes you want to rethink the entire venture, unless you're entertaining a large group, that is.
The law of diminishing returns rarely operates in the realm of the Mojito, especially when treating yourself to one. As far as warm weather activities go, approach the Mojito same way you would an inflatable pool mat. Sure you gotta put in some effort, but it's well worth it when it's done and ready to be enjoyed. Cheers!
*Paystyle was born in Tehran and grew up in Los Angeles (aka Tehrangeles) before moving to Brooklyn with his wife and co-pilot Vanessa Bahmani who provides the stunning photography of Pay's cocktail concoctions. Return every Wednesday for his weekly Happy Hour column.