August 16 is National Rum Day, which is as good a reason as any to brush up on your mojito making.
“In Cuba, the mojito is a farmers’ drink (as compared to the more sophisticated urban drinks, daiquiris and El Presidentes),” writes Dale DeGroff in “The Essential Cocktail: The Art of Mixing Perfect Drinks” (Clarskon Potter Publishers, $35). “Havana was once a primary source of U.S. slaves, and it is not a stretch to imagine plantation owners and slave traders enjoying a few juleps on the expansive porches of southern plantations; the mojito may have been inspired by the southern julep.”
The King of Cocktails, as DeGroff is known, goes on to say that the drink became readily available in Cuba once ice became plentiful. But it didn’t reach U.S. soil until the 1960s.
Since then, it has been changed almost as much as the margarita, with people added everything from blood orange juice to green tea to fresh cranberries, not to mention increasing amounts of sugar.
Plus, some bartenders use so much mint that the drink has become practically unrecognizable. Worse, according to DeGroff, is that the profusion of mint makes the drink “overly herbal and often bitter. In Cuba, the mojito is not even shaken — the mint is simply bruised in the bottom of the glass to release some flavor — and the drink is kept simple and easy, an adult limeade.”
What kind of rum is best? DeGroff prefers the silver Bacardi for mixed drinks such as this because it helps “keep the flavors simple and straightforward to produce a clean, limy, minty cocktail.”
So, take your mojito back to its basics and taste what this classic is really all about.
2 sprigs of tender, young mint
1 ounce simple syrup
3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 1/2 ounces white rum
2 dashes of Angostura bitters (optional)
1 1/2 ounces club soda
In the bottom of a highball glass, bruise the leaves from 1 of the mint sprigs with the simple syrup and the lime juice. Add ice. Add the rum and bitters, if using; top with no more than 1 1/2 ounces of club soda and stir. Garnish with the second sprig of mint.
Makes 1 cocktail.
From “The Essential Cocktail: The Art of Mixing Perfect Drinks” by Dale DeGroff