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How to Make a Mojito, the Rum Cocktail That’s a Beachy Cuban Summer in a Glass

It's time to revive the cocktail that bartenders used to (wrongly) hate.

two mojito cocktails on wooden table top Photo: courtesy Joshua Resnick/Adobe Stock

If you only know one thing about the Mojito, is that it’s made from rum and mint, but if you know one more thing, it’s probably that bartenders hate them. “I’m sorry,” someone will say to me when I’m behind the bar, their face already wincing as if they’re bracing for impact, “but… would it be OK if I asked for a Mojito?” It’s weirdly hard-wired in the culture, as sure as Tuesday means tacos. If you want the bartender to hate you, order a Mojito. But why?

Well, here’s a confession: I used to be that bartender. I hated Mojitos. Back in the mid 2000s, I was the one that couldn’t help but scowl at the flinching apology face everyone always made when they ordered them. More often than not, I’d have to fight the urge to say “here’s your fucking Mojito” when I dropped one off. I knew bartenders who had purposefully made horrific Mojitos so they wouldn’t be asked to make another—Splenda instead of sugar, Fernet Branca instead of mint, etc—and I celebrated these people as heroes. Such was the extent of my hate.

I’m not proud of this. It’s inexcusably obnoxious for a professional drink maker to complain about making a drink and antithetical to what the service industry is supposed to be about. The reason I mention it at all is that people still hesitate to order them for this reason, and they shouldn’t worry about it, because not only are Mojitos absolutely incredible cocktails, but they are also, and I can’t stress this enough, not in any way difficult or arduous to produce.

To explain: At most bars in the mid 2000s, Mojitos were both incredibly popular and far and away the most complicated drink a bartender would be asked to make. Most other things were just spirit and mixer—maybe you’d have to grab the triple sec for a Margarita or a Cosmo or something, but that was pretty much it—and then here comes the Mojito for which you have to find some mint and you have to unearth a muddler and you have to muddle the stupid mint into what was at the time probably Rose’s Lime Juice and it was a big pain in in the ass and the Mojito acquired a reputation for being an annoying drink ordered by annoying people.

The thing about reputations is that they tend to stick, even long after they stop being true. Our collective lack of preparation made Mojitos “difficult” in 2003, but in 2021, it simply doesn’t apply. It’s just mint. Mint and muddlers are now like the minimum acceptable standard, and any bar that takes drinks even a little seriously makes more complicated things than Mojitos every night.

It’s time to bring back the Mojito, fully rehabilitate its image. They’ve been in exile at pool bars and beach hotels for long enough—so fully associated with them now that I’ll bet the one you’re remembering came in a plastic cup—but any even semi-warm night deserves a Mojito. It’s the Daiquiri without the tart edge, the Mint Julep without the boozy backbone. It is light with rum, bright with lime, long with soda and fresh with mint. It is preternaturally refreshing, created for sweltering Havana nights under languorous ceiling fans. The Mojito is, as Wayne Curtis writes in his excellent history And a Bottle of Rum, “summer in a glass.”

It’s also quick and inexpensive and outrageously good, and, those of us nursing guilty consciences feel encumbered to reiterate, extremely easy to make. Try one and see.

Mojito

  • 2 oz. silver rum
  • 0.75 oz. fresh lime juice
  • 0.75 oz. simple syrup
  • 10-12 mint leaves

Add all ingredients to cocktail shaker and shake. In a tall glass, gently muddle an additional three to five mint leaves. Shake the cocktail and strain into the glass over fresh ice. Top with 1 to 2 oz. soda water. Garnish with two mint crowns (the top of the plant) twisted together to form a bushy mint explosion on top.

NOTES ON INGREDIENTS

havana club rum

Photo: Jeremy Repanich

Mint: To muddle, or not to muddle. Many if not most recipes online will have you muddle the mint, which just means to smush it with a stick. They then build the drink in the glass without shaking, just adding ingredients and ice and then you’re done. This has the benefit of keeping the mint in the glass, which continues to add mintiness over time, but it’s also warm—it’s the shaking that chills everything down. You can do this if you want, but make sure the glass is ice cold from the freezer, the soda water is as cold as possible, and you’re using crushed ice, which will chill the whole system down faster.

The easier and (I think) better way is to just throw the rum, lime, mint and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker and shake it. This has two benefits—first, it makes everything quite a bit colder and second, the mint gets beaten up by the ice and has a much fuller initial presence in the drink itself.

That makes a fine drink all its own. The one thing I’d append is to reiterate that the cocktail seems to get more minty over time if it sits on the leaves, so if you love that note, consider muddling a few extra leaves in the bottom of the glass you’ll strain the drink into. That way, you’re not pouring shredded shaken bits of mint into your glass, but you still get the full experience of that cooling minty exhale.

Rum: Use a light, white Spanish-style rum here. Havana Club would be the gold standard, but best of luck finding it. My favorites in this cocktail are Flor de Cana 4-year White Rum or Ron Matusalem. Bacardi or Cruzan would also work. What I look for here is the type of rum that behaves like a tropical vodka, basically, not bringing too much character of its own, to let the mint and lime speak. My goal for Mojitos is always maximum refreshment, so while I look for a rum with more character for Daiquiris, in Mojitos, I mostly want the rum to get out of the way.

Simple Syrup: Equal parts sugar and water and stir until the sugar dissolves. If you’re using an extremely light rum like the ones listed above, the cocktail benefits—minorly but discernibly—from a Demerara syrup, which is to say, using less refined sugar instead of white sugar to make your simple syrup. Honestly though, while it is better, don’t go too far out of your way—it’s not that important.

Soda Water: Keep it cold and as carbonated as you can find. San Pellegrino and Perrier are nice for lunch, but nowhere near carbonated enough for cocktail work. Your local grocery store probably has their self-branded cans which do the trick nicely, or for a little street cred, bottles of the hipster-favorite Topo Chico are now widely available.


Every week bartender Jason O’Bryan mixes his up his favorite drinks for you. Check out his past cocktail recipes.

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