Fresh Mint and Lime Add Sparkle to This Tall Cuban Cooler
The Mojito is one of the trendiest drinks of the past decade. And no wonder. This refreshing cocktail packs a lot of flavor and pleasure into each tall, cool glass.
The Mojito is a volume drink that takes a while to consume. And sparkling water helps dilute the alcohol quotient. So it makes an excellent thirst quencher for a long, hot summer afternoon. You can have two — and still keep your wits about you.
It’s also exceptionally easy to make.
Been a while since you’ve had one? Well, now you know what you’re drinking this weekend!
Recipe: Mojito Cocktail
Traditionally, you build this drink in a glass. That is, you add all the ingredients to the glass and stir them with a spoon — no cocktail shaker required. And if you’re making just one drink, building is easy. But if you’re serving a crowd, it can get a bit tedious. So I provide an alternate way of mixing a Mojito that uses a cocktail shaker. Either method gives you a great-tasting drink.
The only technique involved that may be new to you is “muddling.” Muddlers are used to mash drink ingredients — mint in this case, and maybe some lime as well — in the bottom of a glass to release their volatile oils (which carry much of the flavor). Perhaps the best-known muddled cocktail is the Mint Julep. (And the Mojito is really just a rum-based version of a Julep.) If you make this type of drink often, you may want to invest in a muddler. Every liquor store stocks them, and they cost just a few dollars. But no need to buy one right now — you can use a long-handled spoon as a substitute.
For this drink, you should use a tall glass that holds 10 to 14 ounces (12 is ideal). This recipe yields one drink, and takes about 5 minutes to prepare. It’s easy to scale up if you’re serving thirsty hordes.
- ½ ounce lime juice (I often increase this to ¾ ounce, but I love the taste of lime)
- 8 - 12 fresh mint leaves
- 1 - 2 teaspoons granulated sugar or Simple Syrup (the quantity depends on how sweet you like this drink; see Notes)
- 2 ounces white rum (I like Bacardi, but any light Puerto Rican or Cuban-style rum works well)
- sparkling water to top up the glass (usually about 3 ounces; bottled club soda or seltzer works well)
- sprig of mint for garnish (not really optional; see Notes)
To Build the Drink in a Glass:
- Add the lime juice, mint leaves, and sugar or Simple Syrup to a tall glass. Muddle the mint leaves briefly. You want to just bruise them; if you muddle them too much, they turn bitter.
- Fill the glass to the ¾ mark with ice cubes (some prefer crushed ice) and add the rum.
- Top off with sparkling water (fill to within ½ inch of the top) and stir to help distribute the mint leaves throughout the drink (they look pretty). Add a mint sprig for garnish, and a long straw. Serve.
- Add the lime juice, mint leaves, and sugar or Simple Syrup (Simple Syrup is best in this method) to the cocktail shaker. Muddle the mint leaves briefly. You want to just bruise them; if you muddle them too much, they turn bitter.
- Add the rum to the shaker, and add enough ice so the shaker is half full. Shake until the mix is cold (20 seconds).
- Fill a tall glass to the ¾ mark with ice cubes or crushed ice. Strain the contents of the shaker into the glass, and top off with sparkling water (fill to within ½ inch of the top). Stir to help distribute the mint leaves. Add a mint sprig for garnish, and a long straw. Serve.
- For general information about making cocktails, see the post on Cocktail Basics.
- Use enough sugar in this drink so it tastes good to you. I often prefer less sugar in my drinks. Many people prefer more. You may want to use Simple Syrup instead of granulated sugar. That way if you want extra sweetness, it’s easy just to add a bit more syrup – it will dissolve in the drink almost instantly.
- I almost always use Simple Syrup rather than granulated sugar in drinks because it dissolves much better. Granulated sugar that fails to dissolve completely can make drinks somewhat gritty. However, that grittiness can be a virtue in a muddled cocktail. When you muddle granulated sugar with mint leaves, the grinding granules help release some of the mint’s oil. But whenever I shake a cocktail, I always use Simple Syrup.
- Using granulated sugar works particularly well if, instead of adding ½ ounce lime juice to the drink when you muddle the mint leaves, you cut half a lime into slices and muddle them with the mint leaves and sugar. This not only releases juice from the lime (as well as oils from the mint), but also releases volatile oils from the lime peel, which can add a pleasant note to the drink.
- However, you don’t want to overdo the muddled lime peel thing, because the peel has a somewhat bitter flavor. It’s pleasant in small quantities, but offensive if you overdo it.
- Some people like to add the empty shell of a lime half (one that you squeezed for juice) to the bottom of the glass as additional garnish. In fact, I’m one of those people.
- Or sometimes I garnish with a few lime slices in the glass (see pictures).
- The sprig of mint garnish gracing the top of the glass is functional (and thus not optional, IMO). You poke your nose into it as you sip your drink, which allows you to inhale some of the mint aroma. This enhances the mintiness of the cocktail, adding considerably to the pleasure of drinking it.
- Mint grows like crazy, so if you have a garden, it's a good herb to plant. (It loves moisture, and unless you contain the roots, it can be invasive, so think about where you want to plant it.) Spearmint is the most useful variety, although peppermint is also nice. Originally this drink was probably made with yerba buena mint, a variety widely available in Cuba.
- Some versions of the Mojito call for adding a dash or two of Angostura Bitters to the drink. This is a pleasant variation – you might want to try it and see if you prefer it.
- According to to Dale DeGroff in The Craft of the Cocktail, the Mojito originated in Cuba, perhaps as early as 1850. But it didn’t gain wide popularity there until early in the 20th century, when ice and sparkling water became readily available.
- Then the drink became so popular that it turned into the “Budweiser of Cuba.” It was a simple, refreshing cocktail enjoyed by farmers and laborers throughout the country.
- Ernest Hemingway, who spent much time in Cuba, liked Mojitos. A lot.
- He also liked the Classic Daiquiri (another Cuban original). A lot.
- Which raises the question: Was there any drink that Hemingway didn’t like? A lot?
- Today, in the US at least, the Mojito is sort of the anti-Budweiser. It’s become an upscale drink that the trendy have adopted as their own.
Welcome to Our Summer Sippin’ Series!
This is the first cocktail in our Summer Sippin’ Series here at Kitchen Riffs. Each week through Labor Day, we’ll feature a different drink (we’ll also be doing plenty of food posts). Some of the drinks will be ones you know already, while others may be new to you. But all will be wonderful. (For the nondrinking crowd, I’ll offer nonalcoholic versions of some cocktails.) You can read more about the series in the post on Cocktail Basics.
Next week? First up is a food post – Roast Strawberry Salad. Then later in the week another tall, classic cooler: The Tom Collins.
I’m thirsty already.
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