The Classic Mojito Cocktail is literally and by far the most requested cocktail. Popular in Cocktail lounges, at parties, events and functions.
However, ask any Professional Mixologist, ‘what are the hardest Cocktails to create properly?’ Somewhere near the top of the list will be the Mojito. Not because of the number of ingredients needed to create it or even the complexity of the ingredients – none of that. It is a simple and easy cocktail to create (in essence).
As with a lot of things in life, it is always the simplest things and in this case cocktails that are the hardest to make or master – even for Professionals. The Mojito does not require any ‘fancy’ techniques, humongous number of ingredients or even a bucket load of exotic or expensive goodies to create.
It requires just FIVE ingredients. Yes, just five:
- Simple (sugar) syrup and
- Soda water.
Mojito Cocktail Measurements
Most Cocktail’s ingredient quantities can be approximations. One measure or 1 ½ measures is not vital in terms of taste or ruining the overall Cocktail. However, for several Classic Cocktails the measurements must be right and accurate, Chemistry at its absolute best. The old Fashioned, Margarita, Manhattan, Mai Tai, Long Island Ice Tea and of course the Mojito Cocktail are ones that will shine, be spectacular and taste like nothing on earth if measured correctly and, most importantly the right technique is used to bring out the qualities, subtle nuances and sheer brilliance of the Cocktail.
The Mojito Cocktail has an interesting past and fascinating tale. We know it was or probably was first created in Havana, Cuba, but when the original Mojito Cocktail version was invented, how it originally came into being has more than one curious if not dubious history.
A story of Pirates and Jolly Rogers
Historians are pretty convinced the origins of The Mojito Cocktail stem from the Caribbean island of Cuba located 100 miles south of the Florida Keys. However, what they are not convinced about is where and how it was derived or concocted. Several theories abound.
Theory one: The South American Indian remedy
Tropical illnesses have been endemic in the Caribbean throughout history. To combat this during the 16th and 17th centuries, it was said local raiding parties as well as Pirates, Privateers and the like would alight on the sun-kissed beaches of Cuba, plunder, steal or even barter for certain items they needed; they would come back to their ship with an effective cure or remedy for a number of tropical illnesses. One part of that remedy was in the form of a local crude white ‘rum’ (Tafia – an unaged form of rum) made from sugar cane; aguardiente de caña (translated from Spanish as “burning water”). Aguardiente is what would be classed today as a liqueur; anise flavoured. It is created by distilling sugar cane. It has around 24% - 30% alcohol content.
Mixed (or muddled) with other local obtainable ingredients on shore such as mint, limes and sugar cane juice, this ‘concoction’ was not only (just about) drinkable but hugely beneficial and restorative.
It was not necessarily the aguardiente de caña that was the secret, but more than likely the other ingredients such as...
Peppermint, Common Garden mints and the ubiquitous Spearmint were introduced into Jamaica as late as 1927, there is no definitive date as to when and where mint was first introduced into the 777 by 119 square mile Cuban tropical island. The Caribbean region has a long history of cultivating a multitude of varieties. The original mint version could have invaded Cuban shores at almost any time in antiquity.
Although the genus Mentha (Mint) includes 25-30 species, mints are cultivated all over the world in various climes and in various forms. Most gardeners will testify; mint can be quite invasive and hard to get rid of once it gets a hold. It can be rampant and spread rapidly. There is no way of knowing (unfortunately) which variety of mint was used for the very first Mojito. Though one Canadian Herb company claims to sell the original ‘Mojito mint’ ³ (Mentha x villosa). Who knows?
Why did sailors take mint?
Mentha spp. Has been well documented (in modern times) as helping and being a remedy for diseases such as tuberculosis, bronchitis, sinusitis and even the common cold. It is an excellent expectorant too. Old Salt Dogs would have known, presumably after drunken bouts that the mint leaf can help with upset stomachs, inflammation, and general illnesses.
When fresh fruit onboard ran out and the onset of scurvy was on the horizon (scurvy being simply a vitamin C deficiency) let alone dysentery looming, mint, limes, lemon, and papaya where well-known stalwarts in staving off potential problems.
Limes like mint are also high in vitamin C. An American study found a medium sized lime (approx. 65 grams) provides over 20% of the RDI (Reference Daily Intake – USA). For the scientific folk, a lime has 27.78 mg/100g². of vitamin C (UK).
Sailors of the High Seas may not have known limes are also high in citric acid. They have been found to prevent painful kidney stones raising levels of citrate and binding stone-forming minerals in the urine¹. Having kidney stones on a galleon must have been purgatory.
Whether sailors, Pirates, Privateers or Bounty seekers had known about the characteristics or the health benefits of Sugar Cane is unknown, but they were on to a good thing.
Sugar cane has great nutritional value. It is high in antioxidants; fighting infection, boosting the immunity system - especially needed after a hard-fought sea battle! Sugar cane is also rich in iron, calcium, magnesium, and electrolytes⁵. Electrolytes being electrically charged minerals and compounds that help our body produce energy and aid the smooth flexing of our muscles. Examples of electrolytes include sodium, chloride, potassium, and calcium.
For battle torn Sea Salts, sugar cane helped blood to clot, build new tissue and prevent dehydration.
These raiders knew what they were doing. Even today, sugar cane makes up over 70% of the world’s sugar production.
The other side of the coin is that the Mint, lime, and cane sugar masked the harsh taste of the aguardiente de caña. Health benefits were (perhaps) incidental to them
Theory Two: Plantation slaves
Cuba in its time saw over a million slaves (African and Chinese) working on plantations for the Spanish and British. One theory holds that slaves came up with the concoction but minus the lime.
Whether the slaves were permitted to cut and take sugar cane (away from their Plantation Masters with their permission) extracting the sugar from the cane juice to produce molasses then to ferment the mixture to create their crude ‘rum’ is questionable. Possible, but questionable.
The ‘Fire Water’ it produced (Tafia) muddled with mint and pure cane juice added for sweetness certainly sounds like an unpolished, rudimentary, and unsophisticated version of a Mojito. Plausible?
Theory Three: El Draque, Drac or simply Drake – The Dragon
Francis Drake (1540-1596 - knighted in 1581 to become Sir Francis Drake) was a character by all accounts.
According to Historian Harry Kelsey he sums Drake up as a "ruthless, arrogant, self-willed, covetous, money-minded, and amoral" man. The general (historic) impression however the general is that he was a pious, honourable, and much-loved man (especially by Queen Elizabeth I).
Although Drake is well known for making three epic voyages in his lifetime; the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe, raiding Cádiz in 1587 and disrupting the Spanish Armada in the English Channel in 1588. According to the Spanish he was a villain, a Pirate, and a rogue. To the English he was simply a hero (at that time).
What has all this to do with Mojito Cocktail?
In 1570 and 1571 Drake embarked on two successful and profitable trips voyages to the Caribbean. The following year in 1572 having been given ‘permission’ by Elizabeth I to be a Privateer (polite way of saying – a Pirate) he set off to plunder and maraud the Caribbean and in particular, the Spanish Caribbean. He soon was labelled or given by the Spanish the moniker; “El Draque” – The Dragon. Their hatred was mutual.
Drake returned to England with a shipload of Spanish treasure and a good reputation. During these voyages, his knowledge widened in what to expect or encounter on the high seas and in tropical waters, scurvy, dysentery, and all other manner of horrible diseases.
In 1885 he once again set off from Plymouth on a ‘Spanish’ raiding mission. First heading to Santiago (Chile, south America) then headed north and into the warm Caribbean Sea to Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) docking on New Year’s Day 1586.
In February 1586 he headed due south to another Spanish port; Cartagena, Colombia on the north coast of South America (once again with a huge amount of plundering and robbing as he went). Once he had successfully plundered Cartagena and still with itchy feet (and the thirst for more treasure and booty) he headed once again north setting sail for Florida. On his voyage north he set ashore on Cuba for a bit more plundering and of course to replenish the ship’s stores.
It is said on this trip he obtained the infamous ingredients: aguardiente de caña, mint, limes, and sugarcane. After all this sailing and months at sea, and a multitude of battles it is said his crew were almost on their last feet with scurvy, dehydration, and dysentery.
Getting drunk no doubt helped the crew think less of their medical conditions. But whether known to them, the crude Mojito Cocktail the ship’s doctor (or even cook) was concocting gave the crew a beneficial health injection they so long needed. According to American author and Mixologist Jared Daniel Brown, the mint (Hierba buna) was Mentha Suaveolens otherwise known as Apple mint, a mint high in vitamin C.
Ironically, Drake died on 28th January 1596 of dysentery off the coast of Portobelo on the Caribbean side of Panama. It is said Drake had a sea burial in a lead coffin near Portobelo Bay. His coffin has never been found – to date.
Origin of the name Mojito - Mojito Cocktail
There are a few theories; here are just a few.
One theory promotes that it relates to mojo, (pronounced ‘mo-ho’ in Spanish) a Cuban seasoning created from limes, lemons, oranges, oregano, garlic, and the obligatory jalapeños. It is a sauce that goes well with most dishes to add extra punch and flavour.
Mojo (‘Mo-joe’ to English speakers) meaning ‘magic’, good luck, or someone having a special or supernatural touch, hence the phrase, “to lose ones’ Mojo”. With a Mojito, the Mixologist certainly needs to have a magical touch to create the perfect Mojito Cocktail.
A second theory (copied and promoted by those that have not researched the origins) claim it is simply a derivative of the word ‘mojadito’ – Spanish for the word ‘ a little wet’ and the diminutive of ‘mojado’ (translated as just ‘wet’). This theory is a little hard to believe.
All the ingredients were certainly there on the islands by all accounts. They were being used in some sort of combination from the 16th century for a drink (but not as a Mojito Cocktail by name!) It was not until the Rum company Bacardi came along in 1862 that rum based drinks begun to come in to their own. Bacardi began to pick-up ancient and modern recipes as well as ideas for drinks and Cocktails that would show case their rums. Today they are the largest privately owned and family-held company in the world with over 200 brands and labels. Many (not all) Mojito Cocktail recipes call for Bacardi white rum. Their promotion of the Mojito Cocktail and their white rum certainly has paid dividends and secured the Mojito’s popularity.
Then along came Hemingway…supposedly.
Was it a practical joke, a way of drumming up business? Myths and legends always follow the rich and famous. As the (tourist) story goes author Ernest Hemingway’s favourite drink whilst living in Cuba was the Mojito Cocktail which he ‘often’ had at one of his favourite bars, La Bodeguita del Medio (Empedrado No 207, Havana, Cuba).
Hemingway (1899-1961) was a prolific drinker; not sticking to just one type of beer, spirit or even Cocktail. La Bodeguita del Medio has become somewhat of a tourist trap these days due to two facts; The first is that Hemingway did frequent this bar at times (how often we do not actually know) and secondly a sign on the wall (we all love signs and messages written by legends…) "My mojito in La Bodeguita, my daiquiri in El Floridita."
Apart from this sign, more than likely not even written by him but forged, there is no real evidence that Hemingway drank a Mojito Cocktail at this bar. Hemingway was an author that wrote about his experiences, the places he had been to, people he had observed, seen, and met and the drinks he had had. There is no actual mention of a Mojito in any of his books let alone the bar La Bodeguita del Medio. It has been said he did like a drink like a Mojito on his boat ‘Pilar’⁶
Link a famous character or personality like Hemingway with a drink and then if possible, with a location; that is a sure-fire recipe for success and great business.
The Mojito Cocktail is a truly great Cocktail, no doubt about it. For Mixologists it is messy, sticky (all that sugar) and can take time to make – properly. Anybody can throw all the ingredients together and call it a mojito. It takes time, patience, and care to create the perfect mojito.
The Mojito Cocktail
The creation process is simple:
- Place 1 teaspoon of caster sugar into a Boston Can (Cocktail shaker).
- Squeeze 1 shot of fresh lime juice into the shaker. If available or time allows, place the lime in a microwave and microwave for literally a few seconds. This will release more juices than squeezing the lime from cold. Do not heat or cook the lime!
- Place up to 10 (or so) mint leaves into the shaker. Smaller mint leaves will give more of a minty-flavour and less bitterness than larger leaves.
- Muddle gently – just to release the juices - but no more than 5 or 6 rotations of the Muddler – do not pound the mint into submission or grind it to a pulp. There are Mixologists that advocate not muddling at all stating that by shaking the Cocktail shaker is enough for the ice to muddle the mint.
- Add 1 ¼ shots of white rum.
- Add ½ shot of simple syrup; water and granulated sugar (heated and cooled prior to making the Mojito) mixed in a 1:1 ratio. The ratio can be changed depending on the sweetness you require.
- Add a splash of soda water. Not everyone likes soda water in their Mojito – ask!
- Fill shaker with shaved/cracked ice.
- Pour gently into a Collins or Highball glass.
- Top-up (if requested) with soda water.
- Garnish the glass with cut limes and sprigs of mint. Before placing the mint into the glass, gently hold the mint in one hand and slap it against your other hand to release the mint oils and aroma. Place the mint in the glass next to a Cocktail straw.
One Mojito Cocktail to perfection.
As with most (but not all) Cocktails there are variations, adaptions, and deviations from the original recipe. With the Mojito Cocktail, there is a plethora of variations such as (but not limited to), their names include:
- Absinthe Mojito
- Apple Mojito
- Bajan Mojito
- Blueberry Mojito
- Dirty Mojito
- Elderflower Mojito
- English Mojito
- Flavour Mojito
- French Mojito
- Ginger Mojito
- Grand Mojito
- Greek Mojito
- Jamie’s Mojito
- Lychee Mojito
- Luxury Mojito
- Orange Mojito
- Mastiha Mojito
- Milky Mojito
- Mojito de Casa
- Mojito Parisienne
- Pineapple Mojito
- Mojito Royale
- Morelli Mojito
- Strawberry and Balsamic Mojito
- Tearful Chocolate Mojito
- Vodka Mojito
- Watermelon Mojito
In some variations Angostura Bitters is added to cut-down the sweetness of the Mojito Cocktail. Lemon juice is sometimes substituted for fresh lime juice. A Flavour Mojito Cocktail could use for example flavoured vodka or rums such as Lychee, mango, mandarin or even strawberry. There is almost an infinite permutation of variations for a Mojito Cocktail.
- Philip Greene - https://www.eater.com/drinks/2015/12/9/9880450/hemingway-mojito-havana-myth