A Plea for the Mojito
If the Daiquiri is recognized as an absolute classic by everyone, the Mojito’s exact spot in the cocktail world is more problematic: it is both the world’s best selling cocktail and frowned upon by many top bartenders. Some even refuse to make it. They’re wrong, and not only because denying clients what they want is bad policy.
First, because unlike many of the cocktails scorned by craft mixologists, the Mojito wasn’t invented by a brand for marketing purposes or developed with artificial products of dubious colour. It has a noble and authentic history that some, such as Cuban journalist Fernando Campoamor, traced back to a remedy invented by infamous 16th century English privateer Francis Drake – the Spanish-speaking population of the Caribbean called it the Draque. This drink, Campoamor says, evolved into the Mojito. As tradition has it, the modern Mojito was invented around 1910 at La Concha Beach Club in Havana, where it was in high demand and sometimes made with grapefruit – a costlier alternative to lime – for the ‘better class’ of patrons, according to journalist Rafael Lam. The first printed recipe that fits the modern version of the drink came in 1929 (it was called a Mojo Criollo), and the first recipe called “Mojito” came courtesy of Sloppy Joe’s in 1932.
Second, because the Mojito is, at its very heart, a craft drink. It speaks of the land where it was invented: it is made with the local style of rum, it features sugar and lime, the most typical ingredients of the art of the Cuban cocktail, and is aromatized with the peculiar type of mint one finds on the island. It’s a drink that requires knowledge and time (ironically, this may be why some craft bartenders refused to make it) if it is to be made properly. Finally, it just begs to be reinterpreted, as the guys at Rome’s Jerry Thomas did with the Caballito del Professore, which we featured a while back.
Third, because if you’re not striving to make the best Daiquiri, Manhattan or Mojito your client ever had, you’re in the wrong game. Mojitos have been and remain poorly made throughout the world, and as such it is the perfect drink to convince new clients that you know what you’re doing.
Fourth, because everyone deserves a Cuban Mojito at least once. Marketing campaigns notwithstanding, a proper Mojito is not made smashing the mint and lime shells into oblivion and covering the mess with mountains of crushed ice. Cuban cantineros of the golden age knew a thing or two about great drinks: They made their Mojitos in small glasses (it is, after all, an aperitif meant to be drunk fast) and never crushed their ice – they merely cracked it. The lime wasn’t muddled either: it’s the juice you want to use. The mint, the very flavourful stem included, is only lightly pressed. The rum goes without saying. This way of going at it might make for less of a show, but the drink is spectacular and that’s what should matter to craft artists. Right?
In a way, the “no Mojito” policy was understandable a few years ago: the cocktail renaissance was new and, singularly in Europe, built on unsure foundations – there was no great cocktail tradition and convincing patrons to splash the cash on drinks and ingredients they didn’t know nor understand was a fight. Thankfully, things have changed and circumstances may at last allow the Mojito to take its rightful place in the craft bartender’s repertoire.