Updated: Apr 30, 2020
In the first of our classic cocktail series, we look at one of the world's truly iconic mixed drinks, the Mojito. The combination of mint, fresh lime, and a good kick of quality rum has stood the test of time, making it a perfect anytime drink loved the world over, ideal for those warm summer days. It is also fair to say that there is also somewhat of a love/hate relationship with the Mojito. As any bartender worth their salt will tell you, to make a good mojito takes time and technique and as a result, this is not the drink you want to receive large orders of when you are four rows deep at the bar on a busy night. Of course, the majority of customers do not know this nor do they care so when drinks start coming out slower than usual or at a lower quality it's the poor bartender who gets it in the neck. With this in mind, it's time to shed some light on the intricacies of this drink and look at a few ways that you can prepare it for yourself.
The lineage of the Mojito begins with the advent of the New World in the late 16th Century and Sir Francis Drake. In an attempt to solidify their place as global powers in an ever changing world European countries rushed to discover new lands, establish and control trade routes and gain superiority against their rivals. The expansion of naval fleets and the development of technologies during this period allowed pioneers to set out to explore the world, whilst the increase in public awareness and social outlook on the world continued too develop creating the desire to learn more. The Indo-China and Triangular routes were the two predominant trading areas, both playing key roles in colonisation and the expansion of international commerce. The Indo-China route (AKA the Silk Road) was the first of the two routes to be tapped into by colonists, opening up a lucrative trade in spices and textiles between Asia, The Middle East, Africa and Europe.
It was, however, the Triangular Trade route that brings us closer to the Mojito. With the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus on October 12th, 1492 it was not long before the European colonies started to emerge. No sooner than colonies were established, the colonists started looking at ways to produce alcohol with locally available ingredients for consumption and profit. The Dutch were the first to bring commercial distillation to South America. Knowledge of the principles of sanitation and access to standardised yeast strains improved the quality of base ingredients; larger, more efficient stills were developed to produce more product per square foot and reduce waste, and ingredients such as corn, rice and of course sugar were utilised as inexpensive replacements for traditional grains and fruit. These advances allowed greater and more varied quantities to be made, which in-turn made general production cheaper and more accessible to the masses. With this Rum was produced in great quantities in the New World by distilling fermented molasses, the residue left after sugar has been made from sugar cane. By 1657, several rum distilleries were in operation, most noticeably one operating in Boston. It was highly successful and within a generation the manufacture of rum would become colonial New England's largest and most prosperous industry.
Due to its popularity in Europe, Rum quickly became a key trading commodity. The British dominated early production of rum, however, with production being so high the need for molasses soon overtook the actual need for sugar, and so a law was passed stating that a certain proportion of sugar cane had to be used to make sugar. When rival trade increasing further the supply of molasses and rum became cheaper and before long Great Britain was being undercut but its rivals such as Portugal and France.
The triangular trade route worked in the following way. Ships would carry molasses and other goods from colonies in the West Indies to ports including Boston, New Haven, and New York. In these ports, the molasses was turned into rum which was then carried with other tradable commodities such as iron products, weapons, textiles and more to Europe and the coast of Africa. Their ship captains sold their cargo and bought slaves which again would be transported to the West Indies where they would sell the slaves for molasses. Once in the American colonies, they might buy rum again and with each transaction, the ship's owners and merchants hoped to make a profit.
So we have rum, but this does not bring us any closer to understanding the Mojito, nor the ties to Sir Frances Drake. The key to this is the Naval link and the long period sailors would spend at sea. During these times the consumption of alcohol on board naval ships was commonplace with officers and seamen alike being given daily alcohol rations. There were likely a number of reasons for this, first and foremost that limited availability to freshwater meant that other liquids would have been consumed in its place. In addition, it was believed alcohol (particularly distilled spirits) held medicinal properties (think “Aqua Vitae” or “uisge-beatha” meaning water of life) thus offering a perceived health benefit to the sailors. Lastly and somewhat by chance, it was found that the consumption of spirits that had been steeped or mixed with Citrus (Lemon or Lime) served as a cure for Scurvy, a common ailment on ships of the time which would cause the skin to crack and come infected due to a lack of vitamin C. Indeed it is this last reason that brings us to Sir Frances Drake and his El Drake concoction.
The story of the drink starts in 1586 near Havana, Cuba, where Drake (once a privateer) was in charge of a British Naval fleet whose role it was to plunder and terrorise the Spanish opposition. Having successfully plundered a Spanish fleet and taken their cargo Drake and his ships had taken to Port to recover and restock. When the time came to sale again they were unable to do so as the majority of the slave-based crew had been taken sick. Looking to makeshift a remedy, Drake caught help from the local Taino and Ciboney Indians creating a remedy using what ingredients were available.
The first task was to steeped a locally available rum style spirit called "aguardiente de caña" with Chuchuhuasi Bark (used to prevent bacterial and fungal infections, prevents diarrhoea, acts as an analgesic and is used to treat dysentery amongst other things) and added sugar cane juice (knowns as Guarapo amount the slaves who used to work in the sugar fields) to make the taste more palatable. He then mixed it with a local Lime (potentially Lemon dependant on the translations used) to provide the required vitamin C and finally added mint to make the taste more palatable and aid with digestion. The remedy proved effective and Drake and his crew left port following their recovery. The concoction created was soon dubbed "El Draque" after the nickname the Spanish had given Drake. The Drink remained popular onboard Naval Ships for a long time partly due to its medicinal qualities but also in part as it simply made the rum taste better.
From El Draque comes The Mojito
So it may appear that based on the history the Mojito was not so much created but rather inherited then modified. Like most classics, there are several claims to the creation, some more credible than others. Rum brand Bacardi stakes their claim saying that this transition happened in the mid-1800s with the adoption of Bacardi as the go-to rum, moving away from poorer quality potted rums. They claimed that the combination of mint, lime and sugar help to showcase the superior quality of their rum hence the requirement for a different name. Another claim lies not with a brand or person, but rather with a generation. With national prohibition being introduced across America in 1920, Cuba and in particular Havana became a destination for Americans with a need for booze. Many considered the Mojito to be a Mint Juleps made with rum rather than Bourbon and so the link was made. Indeed it may be fair to say that it was at this time that the Mojito legacy was truly cemented. Havana became a playground for the rich and famous who sought to get away from the restrains and social issues of America. Bars such as El Floridita, La Bodequita del Medio and the Havana Club bar became favourite hangouts and the drinks the served became staples of the American palate. One of the most recognised and prolific characters of this time was Ernest Hemingway. A well-known drinker, its is said that he inscribed on a napkin, “My mojito in La Bodeguita, My daiquiri in El Floridita,” at the restaurant La Bodeguita del Medio. As a result of this rather small gesture (of which its validity is questioned as in none of his writings has he ever mentioned the drink nor the bar, an uncommon trait for him) people come from all over the world to sip the drink, and of course, the bar, as a result, has laid claim to the drink's creation.
What's in a Name?
It is still unclear why the Mojito ended up with its name, but of course, there are multiple theories on this. Some accounts say that the mojito was invented by African slaves working in the fields of Cuba. It is thought that the slaves gave their aguardiente concoction the name “mojito” from the word “mojo,” which means “to cast a spell". Another such story states that the name Mojito was derived from the word Mojo, a Cuban seasoning made from lime which is often used to flavour dishes. And last but by no means least there is another theory which says the name Mojito is simply a derivative of mojadito (Spanish for "a little wet"), the diminutive of mojado ("wet"). Whatever the real reason we will likely never know but no matter the name is here to stay.
Making the Mojito
Version 1: The Bodeguita Del Medio Method
They say "never meet your idols", so if this rings true this may apply here. Very different in style to modern-day mojitos, the Bodeguita Mojito is much more soda dominant that contemporary examples, and takes approximately 10 seconds to make. The result may be completely different to what you were expecting but if you consider the bar has to make thousands of these cocktails daily for the influx of thirsty tourists you may begin to understand why it is the way it is.
Glass: 8oz Highball
Ice: Cubed (Yes you read that correctly)
45ml (1.5oz) Havana Club 3yrs
15ml (0.5oz) Lime Juice
15ml Sugar Syrup (or 0.5 tbsn Sugar)
1 large mint sprig (leafs left on the stem)
Soda to fill
Method (Yes, this really is the method)
Pour the lime juice and sugar syrup into the glass.
Fold the mint sprig and place into the glass.
Add soda until the glass is one-third full.
Assault the mint with a non-food safe muddling stick to release the flavours of the mint whilst spilling soda all over the bar.
Pour rum without using a measure.
Add cubed ice and top with extra soda if needed
Place cheap flex neon straw and serve
Note: Handle the glass at all times by the rim, ideally sticking your fingers into the glass at any given time. Coughing onto hand between handling may get you promoted.
Version 2: The Liquidstate Method
This version of the Mojito is how we choose to maker mojitos. After trying numerous variations to see what give the best result we settled on this technique. Adding the aged rum alongside the lighter rum it gives that bit of extra body to the drink. To date, we have received lots of compliments on this recipe so give it a try.
Glass: 12oz Highball
40ml Havana Club 3yrs
20ml Havana Club 7yrs
25ml Lime Juice
5ml Gomme Syrup (1:1)
1bspn Caster Sugar
15 mint Leafs
Remove the mint sprigs from the stem and place into the highball glass.
Add caster sugar, gomme syrup and Lime Juice (squeezed fresh and measured).
Using a dime end bar spoon press the caster sugar gently against the leaf scoring the surface. Be sure not to rip the leaves.
Add the Havana 3yrs and a splash of soda water.
Repeat the pressing process. Whilst doing this coat the outside of the glass with the mint evenly by rotating the glass as you press. This will help create a consistent flavour through the drink.
Add crushed ice then turn the drink gently making sure that the mint leaves are evenly spread around the glass.
Top with Havana Club 7yrs to give an extra kick of rum.
Crown with Crushed Ice.
Garnish With a large mint sprig, lime wedge and two straws.
Version 3: The Modern Alternative
I learnt this version of the mojito whilst working for Hakkasan group where it was the house standard. It's safe to say that it caused a little bit of a stir with many a guest not because it was a bad drink (it's actually amazing), but more because it does not look like a mojito in the classic sense. Visuals asides, this version packs a huge hit of mint whilst remaining perfectly balanced. Perhaps not your usual serve, but certainly not a downgrade.
Glass: 10oz Highball
Method: Shake & Single Strain
50ml Diplimatico Reserva Rum
15 - 20 Mint Leafs
4 Lime Wedges (squeezed and dropped)
2 tbsp demerara sugar
Squeeze and drop the lime into a cocktail shaker
Add a generous helping of mint leaves then 2 tablespoons (flat) of Demerara sugar.
Muddle the sugar with the lime wedges and mint. The sugar will help draw out the flavours and moisture while the acidity from the lime will assist in dissolving the sugar.
Add the Diplomatic Rum then fill the shaker with fresh cubed ice.
Hard shake for 10 - 15 seconds.
Fill your glass two thirds full with crushed ice.
Using a Hawthorn strainer, single strain your mixture. Do not worry about mint sediment, in this version we want this. The mint should settle at the top of the glass creating a green band at the surface.
Tap the glass gently to pack down the ice, then crown with fresh ice and pack down again.
Add two sip straws and serve.
Version 4: Something Different - The Gregorio's RX
Whilst researching the Mojito I came across an interesting article entitled "The Myth behind Hemingways Favourite Drink". As stated earlier it may be unlikely that the Mojito and Hemingway ever actually crossed paths, especially at La Bodeguita. This being said a source said to be close to Hemingway had stated that he did enjoy a cocktail similar in composition to that of a Mojito whilst on his beloved boat, "Pilar". The cocktail in question was called "Gregorio's Rx" and was created by Hemingway's skipper, Gregorio Fuentes, which he made for Hemingway when he was under the weather. Many believe that Fuentes and another Hemingway skipper, Carlos Gutierrez, both served as the basis for the character of the old fisherman Santiago inThe Old Man and the Sea.
Glass: 10oz Highball
Method: Shake and Single Strain
45ml (1.5oz) Papa's Pilar Blonde Rum (or similar)
30ml (1oz) honey syrup (made from a ratio of 1:1 water to honey)
30ml (1oz) lime juice
4 mint leaves
Sparkling water to fill
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake.
Strain into a glass filled with ice.
Add sparkling water to shaker and swirl around to pick up any remaining flavours then pour into the drink.
Garnish with a mint sprig.