The Best Way to Make a Mojito, The Rum Cocktail That Brings a Beachy Cuban Summer to Your Drink
I believe it's time to revive the cocktail that bartenders used to (mistakenly) despise so much.
Basically, if you knew only one thing about the Mojito, you'd probably know that it was made from rum and mint, but if you knew another thing, you probably knew that it was hated by bartenders. Whenever I'm behind the bar, someone will say to me, their face already trembling as though they are bracing for impact, "but... would it be okay if I asked for a Mojito?" It's as hard-wired in the culture as sure as Tuesday means tacos. The only way to make the bartender hate you is to order a Mojito. But why?
Earlier, I would have to confess that I used to be that bartender. I hated mojitos. When I was a bartender back in the mid-2000s, I always scowled at the flinching apology faces everyone always made when they ordered mojitos. In most cases, when I dropped off a Mojito at a customer's place, I would have to resist the urge to say to them, "here's your fucking Mojito." When I was a teenager, there were bartenders who made horrible Mojitos so they wouldn't have to make another one -- Splenda rather than sugar or Fernet Branca rather than mint -- and I hailed these people as heroes.
In my opinion, this is not a good thing. It's inexcusably obnoxious for a professional drink maker to complain about making a drink and is entirely contrary to what the service industry is supposed to be about. For that reason alone, I am mentioning this because people are still hesitant to order them because of this reason, and this is completely unnecessary because not only are Mojitos absolutely incredible cocktails, but they are also, and I cannot emphasize this enough, not in any way difficult or arduous to make.
The reason for this is: During the late 2000s, mojitos were incredibly popular in most bars, and in addition to being extremely popular, they were also by far and away the most complex drinks a bartender could make. In the beginning, most other drinks were made up of just spirits and mixers - maybe you had to get triple sec for a Margarita, a Cosmo, or something like that - but that was basically all there was to it. Then there is the Mojito. Using a Mojito, you have to find some mint and you have to find a muddler and you have to muddle the stupid mint in what was probably Rose’s Lime Juice at the time. The process was a pain in the ass, and the Mojito gained a reputation for being ordered by annoying people because of the annoying mint.
It is a fact of life that reputations tend to stick, even after they cease to be true. Our collective lack of preparation made Mojitos “difficult” in 2003, but in 2021, the same argument does not apply. It's just mint, that's it. Mint and muddlers are now like the minimum acceptable standard for drinks, and any bar that takes drinks seriously even a little makes more complex things than Mojitos every night.
We need to bring back the Mojito and completely rehabilitate it so that it can be enjoyed in public again. It’s true that Mojitos have been confined to pool bars and beach hotels for quite some time now—they’ve been so closely associated with them that I’m betting it came in a plastic cup—but any semi-warm night deserves one of them. With this cocktail, you won’t find a tart edge in the Daiquiri, nor will you find a boozy backbone in the Mint Julep. With light rum, bright lime, long soda, and refreshing mint, this drink is very refreshing. There is nothing like a Mojito to cool you down on sweltering Havana nights under a swaying ceiling fan. It is a refreshing cocktail, and just as Wayne Curtis wrote in his excellent book And a Bottle of Rum, it is "summer in a glass."
In addition to being quick, cheap, and outrageously good, it is also extremely easy to make, which is something we feel obliged to emphasize, since certain of us feel as though we have guilty consciences to absolve. Give it a shot.
- 2 oz. silver rum
- 0.75 oz. fresh lime juice
- 0.75 oz. simple syrup
- 10-12 mint leaves
In a tall glass, gently muddle another 3 to 5 mint leaves in a cocktail shaker before shaking. Add all the ingredients to the shaker and shake well. Stir and strain the cocktail over fresh ice into the glass. Add one or two ounces of soda water to the glass. Garnish with two mint crowns (the top of the plant) twisted together to form a bushy mint explosion.
NOTES ON INGREDIENTS
In most recipes online, the mint is muddled, which is simply to smush it with a stick. It is important to note that many, if not most, of these recipes will have you muddle your mint. They then build the drink in the glass without shaking, just adding ingredients and ice and then it's ready. Keeping the mint in the glass has the advantage of maintaining its mintiness for a long time, and it is also warm since the shaking chills everything down.
There is no rule that says you cannot do this if you wish, but the trick is to chill the whole system down in a short amount of time so you make sure you have an ice cold glass from the freezer, ice cold soda water, and crushed ice, which will make the whole process go much more quickly.
In my opinion, the easiest way to make this is by just adding the rum, lime, mint, and simple syrup to a cocktail shaker and shaking it for a few seconds. In addition to making everything a little bit colder, the mint gets beaten up by the ice, and therefore has a much stronger initial presence in the drink because of this.
That makes a fine drink all of its own. In addition to this, I would like to emphasize that as soon as the cocktail sits on the leaves, it seems to become more minty. So if you are a big fan of this note, you might want to add a few extra leaves to the bottom of the glass you intend to strain it into if you would like the drink to be more minty. In this way, you are not pouring shredded mint bits into your glass, but you still get the cooling minty exhale.
I recommend using a light, white Spanish-style rum for this cocktail. Havana Club would be ideal, but you might have a hard time finding it. My favorites are Flor de Cana 4-year White Rum and Ron Matusalem. Bacardi or Cruzan also work well. Here, what I am looking for is a type of rum that behaves like a tropical vodka, basically, without adding too much character, allowing the mint and limes to be the stars of the cocktail. In regards to Mojitos, I like to ensure that they are as refreshing as possible, which means that while I look for a rum with more character in Daiquiris, I prefer a rum with less character in Mojitos so that the rum does not overpower the drink.
In order to make simple syrup, combine equal parts sugar and water. Stir until the sugar dissolves. The cocktail will benefit, in minor but noticeable ways, from the use of Demerara syrup, which is to say that you should use less refined sugar to make your simple syrup rather than white sugar, if you are using an extremely light rum like the ones listed above. Honestly though, while it is better, don't go too far out of your way—it is not that important at all.
Whenever you drink soda water, you want it to be cold and carbonated as possible. You can find San Pellegrino and Perrier at your local grocery store, but they aren't carbonated enough for cocktail work. If you want some street cred, you can get a bottle of the hipster-favorite Topo Chico now widely available at your local grocery store. They have their own branded cans that are great for lunch.