Friday, August 7, 2015



Is there any cocktail as positively refreshing as a Mojito? It's so perfect for a hot summer afternoon. Of course, after I made these, the sky darkened like the apocalypse was beginning and golfball-sized hail began to fall from the sky. I was luckily dry and safe inside, but the Mojito felt a bit incongruous. At least if I had run out of ice, there was plenty collecting on my balcony.

I really developed a taste for Mojitos when some friends of mine made it a tradition to serve them whenever they had a party. They'd either mix up a big batch or just leave the tools and ingredients out along with their recipe. I liked that because I got to find out just how they made them, and I've used their recipe ever since. I've got tons of mint growing on my balcony, and Mojitos seem like a great way to make use of it. Especially when hailstones are pre-muddling it for me.

History: The Mojito was born in Cuba. As with many classic cocktails, there are many possible stories to explain its origin, and the best one is probably not true, but it involves pirates and dysentery, so I have to tell it anyway. In 1586, during the Anglo-Spanish War, Sir Francis Drake captured the Spanish city of Cartagena de Indias in present-day Colombia for the English. His men occupied the city for two months before sailing on towards Havana. On the way, they were stricken with dysentery and scurvy. They had heard that the indigenous tribes of the region had remedies for such sicknesses, so some of the crew went ashore on Cuba to ask the local people for help. They returned with, well, Mojitos: lime, sugarcane juice, mint, and a spirit made from sugarcane called aguardiente de cana. And, sure enough, it helped. It was probably just the lime juice that really did anything, but the rest of the cocktail couldn't have hurt. The drink spread throughout Cuba and beyond, known as El Draque after Drake. Interestingly, Drake is referred to as a pirate by the Spanish and a knight by the English - at first I thought I was confusing two different men.

Another version of this story claims that after Drake's invasion of Havana failed, the El Draque was invented in his honor by one of his crew members, Richard Drake. Richard was a former member of Parliament and possibly a distant relative of Francis. I feel like this version of the story needs more details; I just imagine Francis moping in his cabin, staring at a crumpled map of Cuba, when Richard bursts in and brightly exclaims "I made cocktails!"

Francis and Richard Drake
         "Bummer about Havana. Wanna go invade Florida?"                                      "Not now, dude, I just made Mojitos."

Whether or not Francis and Richard actually got their drink on in Havana, Cubans probably were making something similar to a Mojito around this time, particularly workers and farmers. Early rum didn't taste all that good, and mint, lime, and sugarcane juice were amply available mixers to improve its flavor. The aguardiente de cana was replaced by Bacardi rum in the 1800's, and somebody threw some seltzer in there as well. But it was probably around the time of Prohibition that the Mojito left the realm of rural moonshine and entered the bars and restaurants of Havana. The first reference to the entire recipe comes from a pamphlet of cocktail recipes from Sloppy Joe's Bar in Havana from 1931.

As for the name "Mojito," no one is certain when it got changed or even what it means. It may refer to mojo, a lime seasoning used in Cuba, or it may be a diminutization of the word mojado, meaning wet. I've also heard that it comes from an African word, mojo, meaning "to place a little spell," but that doesn't seem very well supported. Which is a shame, because that's just what a Mojito does.


2 oz. white rum
1 half lime, quartered
8-10 mint leaves
3/4 oz. simple syrup or 1 1/2 tbsp. sugar
1/3 cup club soda (2.5-3 oz.)

Put lime quarters, mint leaves, and simple syrup in the bottom of a rocks glass. Muddle well, until mint is bruised and limes are juiced. Add rum. Fill glass with ice and top with club soda. Stir briefly. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

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