A little bit of Cuba in a glass

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The mojito, a Cuban specialty, is a classic drink and one of the most delightful and fashionable hot-weather libations.

Once proclaimed to be the favorites of both Fidel Castro and Ernest Hemingway, the mojito (pronounced moe-Hee-toe) is an enticing and refreshing concoction.


Although it has the look and feel of something modern and stylish, the mojito is basically a Cuban variation of the American mint julep. Whereas the julep is Southern, and so sometimes thought of as conservative and stuffy, the mojito is Latin, and so it is considered hip, sultry and tropical.

Like the julep, the pedigree of the mojito runs back quite a ways and its origins are obscure. The mojito’s antecedent can be found in a Cuban drink known as El Draque or Draquecito, which is a heady brew of Aguardiente de Cana, water, lime juice, sugar and Yerba Buena, sometimes also called Hierba Buena, a local Cuban mint. Aguardiente de Cana, or “firewater of the sugar cane,” is basically just raw, unaged, unfiltered and haphazardly made rum.

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The appellation Draque was named either by, or for the 16th-century British privateer and explorer Sir Francis Drake. Other accounts maintain the drink was invented, or perhaps just favored by African slaves working the sugar cane fields. Based on this version, it is thought by some that the mojito is a play on “mojo,” meaning “to place a little spell” in an unspecified African dialect.

On the other hand, “mojo” is a Cuban Spanish word for “sauce,” and “mojar” is a Spanish verb “to make wet” or “moisten.” Since “dry” is another way of saying “without alcohol,” and since the earliest known printed recipe for this comes from a 1929 Cuban cocktail book, the name mojito might just as simply have been a playful Cuban name for a refined version of a long popular local drink that slaked the thirst of a great many U.S. tourists escaping Prohibition.


As with the mint julep, there are many fiercely contested mojito recipe variations. Here’s mine:

Ingredients

  • 3 ounces white rum (My house brand is Bacardi Silver Rum, but Flor de Caña 4 Year Extra Seco is awesome here; also good is Havana Club Anejo Blanco, and Appleton White from Jamaica is also nice. It’s really a matter of taste.)
  • ½ ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • ½ ounce simple syrup (a 1:1 ratio of sugar dissolved in water)
  • 8-10 fresh broad mint leaves (Spearmint is preferred, but peppermint will do.)
  • 2 dashes of angostura bitters
  • Soda water

Directions

Put the liquid ingredients, minus the bitters and soda, and the mint into your cocktail shaker. Fill with hard, cracked ice, shake it like you mean it for 12-15 seconds, strain into a Collins or highball glass filled two-thirds full with cracked ice; add 2-3 ounces of soda water into the cocktail shaker and stir briefly to absorb a bit more of that mint flavor and to get cold.

Then strain into your mojito; add a few splashes of angostura bitters, stir, garnish with one to three sprigs of fresh mint (bruise the stem a bit so as to further release the mint’s essence into the drink), throw in a small stirring straw and serve.

This is to my tastes; discover your own. Learn to adjust on the fly — the tartness of the limes, the strength of the mint, and the robustness of the rum, each may require adjustment. You can even float a teaspoon of Demerara rum on top for added depth. L’chaim!

Send your wine and spirits questions to Joshua E. London at [email protected].

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