THE SCOOP: Mojitos — 7 things to know about summer’s favorite drink
When you’re talking about favorite summertime cocktails, the mojito is right up there with the margarita, daiquiri and pina colada. The mix of mint, ice, sugar and rum is refreshing on a hot summer’s day at the beach (or wherever you might be).
The drink, which by some accounts is close to 500 years old, has seen a resurgence in the past 20 years thanks in part to Agent 007 and innovative bartenders who are finding new ways to serve the Cuban drink. While you might have ordered a mojito at your favorite bar or restaurant, you can certainly make them at home fairly easily.
While you’re sipping on the drink you made at home, consider some of the storied history of the cocktail.
Mojito as medicine?
The origins of the mojito are a little murky — that happens after a few centuries of storytelling.
According to Taste Cocktails, the mojito was born of a need to treat sailors of the effects of life at sea. In the 1500s, English captain and explorer Sir Francis Drake arrived in Havana on a mission to find gold. Not only did his crew meet with resistance, they were also sick with scurvy and dysentery.
South American Indians shared ingredients they used for medicinal purposes: mint leaves, Iime juice, sugar cane juice and sugar cane alcohol. The combination of the ingredients proved to be effective in treating the sailors. In fact, in the years to follow, the drink came to be known as “El Draque,” named after Sir Francis Drake.
How did it get the name mojito?
The mojito moniker was most likely created by African slaves who worked in the sugar cane fields. They had a version of the drink made from what they called “aguardiente de cana,” meaning “firewater of the sugar cane.” According to Culture Trip, the slaves named their drink “mojito,” which stems from the word “mojo” meaning “to cast a spell.”
Did Hemingway really love mojitos?
For years, the story goes that Hemingway wrote of his love of drinking mojitos at a bar in Cuba, La Bodeguita del Medio. But the writing was not in a book — the writing was literally on the wall.
A handwritten note scribbled on the wall of the bathroom at the bar says, “My mojito in La Bodeguita. My daiquiri in El Floridita,” and it was signed “Ernest Hemingway.” The bar, not surprisingly, has made Hemingway’s supposed love of the cocktail at the bar their claim to fame. But according to new reports, the writing was actually a forgery created by the owners of the bar in the 1950s as a way to drum up business.
It worked. Thousands flock to the bar every year for a “Hemingway Mojito.” Phillip Greene, who wrote about the myth, says further proof is that Hemingway, who frequently wrote about what he was drinking and where he was drinking it, never mentioned the mojito in his novels, prose or letters.
A Kentucky cousin
The mojito has been compared to that favorite drink at the Kentucky Derby, the mint julep. So what is the difference? While connoisseurs might argue there are several subtle differences, others say “the mint julep is kind of like the mojito of the southeastern United States.” The biggest differences are the mint julep uses bourbon instead of rum and is served in a silver cup instead of a regular bar glass.
To muddle or hand crush?
You’ve no doubt seen bartenders use a wooden tool called a muddler to grind the mint leaves. But you can get by with crushing the leaves with your hands, particularly if you use simple syrup instead of sugar.
Metzger says the muddler is needed if you use straight sugar with the mint leaves because the tool is better at breaking down the granules. But she says if you’ve already made a simple syrup by boiling sugar and water until the sugar is dissolved, crushing the leaves with your hands is all you need to release some of the oils and scent from the mint leaf.
Bond (and Berry) reignite a love
Mojitos saw a surge in popularity following the release of the 2002 James Bond film “Die Another Day.” In it, Bond (Pierce Brosnan) and Jinx (Halle Berry) share mojitos on the beach. Filmgoers, assuming they’d suddenly look like Berry and Brosnan, put down the light beer and opted for the Cuban cocktail many people had never heard of. By 2016, the mojito was the most popular cocktail in Great Britain and France.
Thinking outside the box
Part of the popularity of the mojito in recent years stems from bartenders (and mojito lovers) concocting new recipes that take the classic mojito to the next level. Because of its sweet, refreshing and not overly strong taste, the mojito serves as a good base for other fruit flavors — everything from blueberries to strawberries, raspberries and passion fruit. Let your imagination run wild.