Few things go together like mojitos and summertime. Add in a rooftop bar – or better, a piping hot sandy beach, and you’ve cracked the code for the perfect summer’s day. If you really want to go for it, head to Cuba, where the cocktail was first mixed.
That’s right, the mojito is more Cuban than your open-collar shirt. Simple, sweet, and very tempting in a heatwave its combination of sugar, citrus, and aromatic mint means it’s an ideal thirst quencher in the heat and dangerously easy drinking.
Drink snobs may dismiss it as an easy-pour cocktail, but be warned: although refreshing, the generous serving of rum means the mojito packs a punch. “When I used to work as a bartender at the Hard Rock Cafe, we had a regular group of Hells Angels that would come in and the mojito was their go-to,” says Christos Baos, who is now brand manager at Don Papa rum.
Rather than bikers, it’s Ernest Hemingway who can be thanked for the cocktail’s iconic status. The author discovered the drink at the Cuban bar-restaurant, Le Bodeguita del medio. “This bar is now a mecca for mojito fans who want to enjoy a truly authentic version,” says Baos.
Of course that wasn’t its first rendition; the cocktail dates back to the 1600s when it was used as a medicinal drink to curb disease on the island. A moonshine rum-type alcohol was used back then, as sailors used a crude form of the cocktail to treat scurvy and dysentery. The modern name likely relates to mojo, a Cuban seasoning made from lime and used to flavour dishes.
The fact that it’s primarily five ingredients makes it a surefire winner for cocktail enthusiasts and dinner hosts alike: the rum, sugar, lime juice, soda water, and mint can be easily played with to suit differing tastes. “There are so many different ways to experiment with the traditional recipe to achieve a whole range of twists on the classic,” says Baos.
But First… White or Dark Rum?
A mojito is generally made with white rum, which tends to get a bad rap (you probably think of it as your pre-drinking age mixer of choice), but what’s the difference between white and dark rum – and which makes a better mojito?
“Each to their own when it comes to the choice of rum, but drinks like the mojito and the Daiquiri are supposed to be light and refreshing in style, balancing well with the delicate flavours of mint, lime and sugar,” says Metinee Kongsrivilai, brand ambassador for Bacardi Rum. “For this reason, a light-style rum is ideal.”
Baos agrees the lighter white rum is best for mojito beginners, but suggests trying out darker rums too, as the type you use will have a huge impact on the flavour and finish of the cocktail. “The reason that classic mojitos have such a strong mint flavour is because of the subtlety of white rum, which is overpowered by the mojito’s other ingredients – sometimes you can barely taste the alcohol.
“Swapping from white rum to golden rum gives more depth, and finding rums with a characteristic taste can transform your drink. If you’re looking to mix things up, the first place to start experimenting is with the type of rum.”
Bartenders know this all too well: there’s the Cojito which incorporates coconut-flavoured rum, while a dirty mojito calls for gold rum instead of white rum and to use raw sugar or demerara instead of cane, while the South Side is even made with gin instead of rum.
So what does that mean for mojito making success?
“In recent years, with more and more people becoming interested in the art of mixology, drinkers are more inclined to experiment with their base spirits to achieve different flavours and I have definitely seen a rise in the number of dark rum mojitos,” says Baos. “If you’re yet to become a rum connoisseur and aren’t sure whether white or dark is for you, do a taste test with different kinds of rum to find out what you like.”
Twist our arm, then.
How To Make A Mojito: The Classic Recipe
5-6cl rum (your choice)
2,5cl fresh lime juice
2cl simple sugar syrup
6-8 mint leaves
Fresh ice cubes
Add the fresh lime juice to your sugar (or simple syrup) and mint leaves. Then gently mash the mixture with a muddler in a Collins glass. The mint leaves should only be bruised (not shredded) to release the essential oils.
Next, add your rum and stir briefly to dissolve the sugar and to lift the mint leaves up from the bottom for better presentation. Finally, top the drink with crushed ice and sparkling soda water. Add more mint leaves and lime wedges to garnish the glass.
Mojito Flavour Variations
Next stop, garnishes. Traditionally, mojitos take their flavour from the abundance of mint leaves in the cocktail. Swapping out mint and trying different garnishes, herbs or fruits is a simple way to create new and refreshing variations. Adding crushed raspberries or strawberries will make for a fruitier kick.
You can also change the type of sugar used. As per the recipe above, many bars use sugar syrup or muddle icing sugar with the mint leaves rather than regular cane sugar as it’s easier to control the sweetness with. On the other hand, Demerara (light brown) sugar will give your drink more of a caramel flavour.
Many hotels in Havana also add Angostura bitters to cut the sweetness of the mojito while some use lemon juice rather than lime.
Last but not least, don’t take your mixer for granted.
“Although the mojito is a classic cocktail, it’s always fun to play around with additional ingredients and over the years there’s been countless variations on the recipe,” says Kongsrivilai. “Swap the soda water for other mixers or juices like apple juice, ginger ale or even champagne – just adjust the sugar or lime accordingly to balance it out.”
For Baos, it’s all about the coconut. “One of my favourite mojito twists is a play on another Caribbean favourite – the Pina Colada – by adding cream of coconut and pineapple as a garnish to the classic recipe,” says Baos. “I love drinks with a tropical twist and this indulgent version of the mojito is creamy, fruity, with undertones of honey and vanilla, which is perfect for summer.”
Baos’ Coconut Cream Mojito Recipe
6cl Don Papa 7-Year-Old
2cl fresh lime or Calamansi juice
0,5-1cl simple sugar syrup
1-1,5cl cream of coconut
6-8 mint leaves
Fill with soda water
Any Ordering Tips?
Chatting up the bartender has never been more appropriate. “My advice when ordering any cocktail at the bar is, be brave,” says Baos. “Bartenders love nothing more than finding a new favourite for you – whether that’s mixing flavour infusions, creating you a bespoke blend, or switching up the spirit in the cocktail so you can try something new.
“If you’re a fan of mojitos, it’s a great cocktail to entrust to your bartender, as there are so many different ways to personalise it. When you order, let your bartender know the kind of flavours you like and ask them to explain the different types of rums they stock and which flavours these will unlock in your cocktail.”
Counterintuitive on a busy night out? Maybe. Scoring a bespoke cocktail? Priceless.