There you are: you're at the Outback Steakhouse glancing through the Drink Menu. The teens are mooning the kids are shrieking and the parents are alternatively arguing with each other and yelling at the shrieking kids. The pages are flipping by...
"Wait, did I read that right?" you ask yourself as you page back through the menu. Yes you did. It read very clearly: Black Cherry Mojito. And it offers a mix of Cruzan Black Cherry flavored rum, peach schnapps, lime juice, and mint among others in what is promised as "an exotic destination of flavors." If that's not enough, it's topped off with Sprite.
Now it just so happens that there's a history behind the mojito and the ingredients are rather simple. Those ingredients are mint, sugar, rum, lime, and the occasional bit of soda water. Recipes abound on the internet but we like the history offered at the Taste of Cuba, where the recipe uses silver rum and is only very lightly sweetened. The sweet and the sour should mix together leaving a burst of freshness flooding the rum and the carbonation. Energetic mixologists everywhere have tinkered with that recipe by adding raspberries, strawberries, or other kinds of additional flavors but the balance should always be there. It's a refined drink designed to showcase a rum for the sophisticated palate. What the thing doesn't call for is a big pile of fruit. Unless, that is...
That's what makes this recipe from Outback such a Frankenstein horror show at first blush. First, peach and mint seem like a strange combination. A quick Google search reveals a few recipes for ice-cream and (of all things) salsa featuring this combination yet even the vaunted information superhighway is relatively silent on this pairing. But then there's the black cherry... where did that come from? Google is almost completely silent on this combination of flavors but it does turn up the occasional cocktail recipe called Sweet Dreams that combines Peach schnapps, Black Cherry vodka, Strawberry liqueur, orange juice, grapefruit juice, and pineapple juice along with a garnish of mint. We have another name for that: in college we called it "Jungle Juice" and it was basically anything anybody brought poured together in a small garbage can. And even this gem of a cocktail recipe calls not for the flavor of mint but a garnish of mint unlike the infusion of mint from Outback. Let's not forget the notional sour of lemon/lime tossed in by virtue of the Sprite... except that it is Sprite so it's more sugar water than flavor. That is the cocktail equivalent of checkmate: Outback has defeated Google in the weirdest cocktail flavor contest.
When you're confronted with a thing like this staring you in the face, it's just like being challenged to the spiciest wing sauce or the deep-fried twinkie: you've just gotta try it.
Ordering a Black Cherry Mojito as a male is kind of problematic. One wants to preserve some measure of masculinity when ordering cocktails even in these family climes, despite the prom-eligible wait-staff This particular restaurant was no exception where the grinning, pimply-faced young man (training another pimply teenager lurking silently at his shoulder) offered to take drink orders. In these situations, a man wants to be John Wayne ordering a shot of whiskey... not some poodle ordering a Black Cherry Mojito. There is no help, though. There is nothing to do but inwardly sigh in resignation, smile, and order.
"Coming right up!" the teen waiter announces brightly and prances off with his trainee. He delivers it minutes later with a "Here you go!"
Let's pause for a moment to contrast this with an ordering experience at the Ruth's Chris Steak House in Seattle. One of the men in our company-faced with a similar dilemma-ordered a Lemon Drop. The waitress Emily-clearly a professional at her role-responded only with an arched eyebrow.
Flustered, our man insisted after a moment of silence: "But I really like them!"
Silence. More eybrow.
"Can you just make it look... you know..."
"Less girly?" Emily asked.
"Yeah!" he answered, relieved.
"Okay, one Man-drop coming up."
And Emily returned moments later with a lemon drop-disguised as a clear cocktail rather than a glass of yellow sunshine-with two cherries tied together and the stems inserted in the straw.
"Here's your Man-drop," she said. "And it even has a set of balls for you."
Massive applause from our party: now that's a professional! Emily, wherever you are, you have earned our admiration. And note the high contrast with the complete obliviousness of Outback Teenager to the man-angst surrounding the Black Cherry Mojito.
Happily, the Black Cherry Mojito itself presents rather nicely. Unlike a lot of these sorts of drinks it is clear rather than some shade of rainbow. It was garnished simply-though with a further juxtaposition of flavors with a cherry and lime wedge-and the mint floating in the drink was clearly fresh and had been shaken with the cocktail. Expecting flowers in the drink and blinking lights on the glass with fruit overflowing the rim of the glass, the presentation was suitably elegant. Maybe this would work after all?
Before going on, let's say a word about Cruzan rums (properly pronounced "CREW-shun" and improperly pronounced everywhere as "crew-ZAN"). Cruzan makes very decent rum and some outstanding premium rums. Given the price-point of $10-$15, their value rums truly are an exceedingly good value. Their flavored rums, we're in a position to know, are nicely flavored and they're also sweetened. Take a Cruzan flavored rum, shake it in ice, pour it on the rocks and you can drink it almost like a stiff punch with no other mixers. To this already sweet rum, Outback has elected to add schnapps (an historically sweeter-than-sweet liqueur) and Sprite (sugar water).
So why should a person be surprised when, upon drinking the Black Cherry Mojito, the thing tastes like a lollipop?
This Outback curiosity is, in every sense, a candy drink. It is more soda pop than an actual can of soda. This is not to say that it's unpleasant. Even though the mint tastes kind of strange with the fruit (and the green bits get in your teeth), it's not bad. It's just sweet. Really sweet. Sugar coma sweet. If it's meant to be drunk at all, it should be sipped in single drops out of a cordial glass rather than gulped on ice.
After two gulps, you realize the next problem. There's like 4 or 5 ounces of liquid in this glass that's filled to the brim with ice. Here you are, you've got this drink that you can't do anything with but gulp lest you uncover every cavity in your head with a storm of pain from the sugar, and by the time you realize it, your drink is gone. Great news if you're trying to get someone hammered but poor news if you're trying to enjoy a cocktail.
If you're a man, you're thoroughly emasculated at this point. You've ordered a thing that would inspire hazing from even the high school marching band much less the football team; you've drunk this thing that's so sweet it can attract ants from miles away; and it's gone so fast you now have to decide if you can order another one. Is moving to another drink and admitting defeat more or less humiliating than sticking to your resolve and manfully ordering yet another Black Cherry Mojito from the pimply teenager?
If you're a woman, what now? You're betrayed! You ordered a classic cocktail presented in a sophisticated adult way only to have it revealed as a sorority girl drink of the highest order. What now? Can you order another? And if you do, how many extra miles on the treadmill for the many grams of sugar? Will it cause you to start giggling uncontrollably later on in front of your date when the sugar high kicks in? How mortifying!
There is a time and a place for the very sweet drinks. In the evening, it is in a tiny cordial glass sipped neatly as a digestif or a dessert. They are the schnapps and the French crèmes of the world. In the hot summer afternoon, it is in the very lightly fortified fruit juice and ice. Somehow and some way we, the consumers, have encouraged the chain restaurants that they ought to 1) serve signature cocktails that are sweeter than candy and 2) cramming more stuff into a drink automatically makes it tastier. Then, you get this strange childhood competition between the chain restaurants for the blithe and thoughtless restaurateur cocktail dollar.
"Hey!" TGI Friday says, "I've got four different fruits in my mojito. And it has 40 grams of sugar... that's one more gram than a can of coke!"
"Oh yeah?" shouts back Outback, "Well I'll show you! I'll make a mojito with five flavors! And fifty grams of sugar!"
"Nuh – uh!" sneers TGI Friday.
"Oh yeah? Watch this!" shouts Outback and out comes the Black Cherry Mojito.
One can only imagine that in some mid-size city Chili's has placed a Pomegranate, black cherry, peach, pineapple, kiwi, and cucumber mojito with an infusion of rosemary foam in front of a focus group. With what rum? Who cares... just put another fruit in there!
It's time to stop the madness. Cocktails are not soft drinks and they shouldn't masquerade as soft drinks. Outback doesn't even try to disguise it because it calls its cocktail menu a "Drink Menu" instead of a "Cocktail Menu" (though the Black Cherry Mojito itself is described as a "Signature Cocktail"). But don't blame the restaurants-they're not forcing us to buy and drink these things-blame yourself. Demand better. Let's agree, as a consumer group, to just get off this sugar high.