Newbies Guide to the Mojito Cocktail

Newbies Guide to the Mojito Cocktail
Summer is here! It means many things… sea, surfers, sundresses, the display of sun-kissed skin, and parties by the light of the shining moon and glistening stars. And all of it fueled by high-spirited cocktails!

One of the most famous of beach cocktails is the Cuban-born Mojito.

Despite the theater and the mythology around the mojito, it is in reality one of the easiest and most versatile of drinks for the home bar. It takes all kinds of spirit, all kinds of additives, and is easy to customize. It can be served in glasses or in pitchers, served straight up or watered back with soda. And it is almost always delicious. In a world of corn syrup and artificially colored atrocities like “beer – ritas” and plastic sand pails with frozen slushed nonsense, this should be a staple of any party you’re likely to throw.

The mojito completely awesome because it follows some very basic principles:

Principle #1: Sweet and Sour Combined is Tasty

The mojito is based upon the brilliant confluence of lime juice and sugar. That marriage of lime and sugar is the basis of untold numbers of cocktails (indeed, a great number of soft drinks from lemonade to lemon-lime soda as well) and it is the signature flavors of the well-made mojito. Limes are around $0.60 each and one good lime will go for about 3 or 4 mojitos. Sugar can come in many forms: simple syrup made by combining equal parts water and sugar works great but so do sugar cubes, agave syrups, and even sugar packets liberated from the local coffee shop.

Principle #2: A Little Mint Goes a Long Ways

Fresh mint can be had at any grocery store and it’s most of the time dirt cheap. A dollar or two will buy a whole bunch of mint and it only takes a leaf or two to elevate the sweet/sour drink with a breath of freshness. Plus, the use of fresh herbs in drinks is very, very cool.

Principle #3: Simple is Almost Always Best

The last ingredient in any mojito is the spirit itself. Silver rum is by far the favored ingredient and there are many fine and inexpensive rums in the $10-$15 range that work quite well in mojitos. But the mojito is equally receptive of vodka (it’ll lose a touch of earthy molasses but gain a crisp freshness as sort of Kamikaze cocktail), gold rum (adds a touch of oaky vanilla), and even spiced rum (which can be very adventuresome) We’ve even used tequila (which makes a kind of faux margarita) and white whiskey (giving it a grain-forward, beer-like flavor). No matter what we’ve tried, the sturdy mojito is almost always good. If you run out of some kind of liquor in one bottle but still have limes and sugar, why move on to the next bottle and you won’t miss a beat.

But the point is, the drink is easy to make and very, very accommodating. There are only four ingredients and none of them are particularly exotic or expensive.

Principle #4: You Can Empty Your Fruit Cabinet

Possibly the single greatest thing about the mojito is that there’s almost no berry or non-citrus fruit that can’t be muddled into the drink that makes it even better. Strawberries, blueberries, mangos, pineapples, raspberries… just about anything and everything can be tried and it almost always tastes good. Even when it doesn’t, the cost of failure is very, very low and usually there’s an obliging party-goer that will quaff it anyway. Remember how much fun “jungle juice” was in college? This is the equivalent except it generally tastes good.

Intrigued? Of course you are! It can’t be easier to make and here’s the recipe:

Step 1: obtain some kind of vessel. A glass, a pitcher… whatever.
Step 2: Squeeze in between a quarter and a half a lime per drink.
Step 3: add sugar… something around a half ounce to an ounce (or around a teaspoon) per drink. Guessing won’t hurt.
Step 4: drop in a mint leave or two per drink. Optional: if you have straweberries or something, you’re going to have to muddle it in here. This is an advanced bartender move but really only means mashing the whatever in the vessel anyway you can. If you don’t have a muddler, a big wooden spoon or even your thumb will be fine.
Step 5: Add 1.5 or 2 ounces of liquor… we suggest silver rum but really, anything will be fine.
Step 6: Drop in some ice and stir. Vigorously. Or shake. Either way, a little ice will dilute, the drink will chill, and the sugar will blend in.
Step 7: If you feel the need, strain it in to a glass. If you’re building in a pitcher, probably not necessary. If you like limes in your glass, probably not necessary. If you muddled some kind of berry or fruit, you probably do want to strain to get the mashed up mess out of the drink. In any event, get the drink presentation-worthy.
Step 8: optional: top with soda water… this will dilute the strength of the drink and probably desirable.
Step 9: repeat steps 1 – 8 as you see fit.

Honestly, very few drinks are this easy outside of a rum-and-coke or similar drink and it’s really not much more complicated than that.

That’s it… if you were expecting a long history lesson on the genesis of the mojito, the proper way to cut limes, the mighty members of antiquity who lauded it, or the proper terroir rums to use in it, look somewhere else. In fact, if you like, here’s an excellent article on that very subject published by the Havana Journal, where you’ll learn it sprang from pirates in the 16th century. Or this one from Travel Away, where you’ll learn about Earnest Hemmingway’s pleasures with the drink. But for any newbie’s purposes, the key thing to know is how easy it is to make, how hard it is to screw up, and how cheaply it can be made. That leaves you that much more time to enjoy the beach party!

by Neal MacDonald, editor
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