July 11th is National Mojito Day and a perfect time to revisit this article, originally posted in July 2012. Cheers!
It is getting warmer, and that means things will be changing soon in the Miami Valley. If the weather is even a little warm or a little sunny, we will wear shorts and flip flops. We are all getting very distracted at work by the lovely days that we could be out enjoying the fine weather instead of being behind a desk. Lawns need mowing, cars need washing, and our closets are shedding all of their winter clothes in preparation for warmer times. Patios are also opening up across the city, and cocktails are being served on them to many very relaxed patrons. We start to gravitate to lighter and fruitier flavors, or anything frozen. There is one perennial that appears again when the spring and summer months roll around. It was born on a tropical island, and its combination of citrus, sweetness, and fresh mint never fails to bring us back there. The mojito is a staple on any patio in the country, and one of the few cocktails we have a fairly accurate history of.
The base of the mojito goes back as far as 1586. From a practical perspective, Sir Francis Drake’s raid on Havana that year for gold was a huge disaster. From a drinker’s perspective, it was the beginning of summer cocktail season. One of his associates mixed a drink with aguardiente (a very early and raw form of rum, loosely translated to “fiery water”), lime, sugar and mint. It was called “El Draque” (the Drake or dragon, since the Cubans were not fans of Sir Francis); the addition of the extra ingredients was to cover the harsh nature of the liquor. It continued its evolution in the fields of Cuba. The people working the fields would crush up the sugar cane and extract a very sweet liquid from it, which they called guarapo. That sweet liquid was a staple of the workers and the base of a new spirit, rum.
Rum is really the only thing that changed “El Draque” into the mojito. The other ingredients did not change, but the switch to rum also changed the people that drank it. It moved from the fields of Cuba to the patios. It became more refined, and evolved into a drink that Cuba started to be known for. It was first recorded as a mojito in a drink manual from a bar named Sloppy Joes in 1931. This was during Prohibition, when the nearest bars in Florida were in Cuba. This attracted sort of a cocktail tourism, and people started to discover the joys of rum cocktails. From Sloppy Joe’s it moved over to a bar named Bodeguita del Medio, which became THE place to get mojitos during the 20’s and 30’s. Ernest Hemmingway (more of a daiquiri man) was once quoted as saying “My mojitos at La Bodeguita. My daiquiris at El Floradita.” During this time, the cocktail picked up a few modern conveniences: “charged” water (soda) and ice. Both of these items were in very short supply in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There is some evidence the ice was added a little earlier, but we know that both were part of the drink when it migrated, post-Prohibition, to the United States.
The mojito made its grand entrance to the United States at the New York World’s Fair in 1939 as the featured drink at the Cuban pavilion. It spread like wildfire through the U.S., becoming a hugely popular drink in bars all over the country. It was fresh, it was foreign, and people were enamored with the unique flavor. At least, it was popular until the 60’s. It was about that time that processed juices and other beverages became more fashionable to use as mixers, and technology trumped fresh juices and ingredients. The drink was pushed aside by the Long Island iced tea and the mai tai. It was not revived until the craft movements of the 80’s when beers and fresh ingredient cocktails came back into vogue, and processed cocktails started to share the limelight again with smaller cocktails from a long forgotten period. The resurrection continued into the 90’s. Latin food became quite the culinary fashion. During the height of the popularity of the cosmopolitan-driven series Sex and The City, The Los Angeles Times referred to the mojito as “a cosmo for the more adventurous”. And with its light and crisp flavor, they were not entirely wrong. It’s final step back onto its original throne was James Bond having one in “Die Another Day”, offering Halle Barry one as well. Now it is considered one of the top classic cocktails in the country, right along with the mai tai and Long Island iced tea. It is another cocktail that made Imbibe’s list of most influential cocktails of the century.
It is influential for a reason. Rum is a naturally sweeter liquor, and holds together the tartness of the lime and the bite of mint together in a very refreshing manner. It is simple enough to make in any bar or home, and during the warm spring and summer months it is incredibly refreshing. If you are looking for the best place in Dayton to find one, El Meson was an overwhelming favorite in an impromptu poll. Sidebar 410 and Meadowlark were also mentioned, as well as the kitchen of Superfry! If there are other places you feel make remarkable mojitos, let us know in the comments section. If you are going to make it at home, here is the traditional recipe.
2 sprigs of young mint
1 oz. of simple syrup
.75 oz. of fresh lime juice
1.5 oz. of light rum (Bacardi is an excellent choice)
2 dashes of Agonstura bitters (optional)
1.5 oz. club soda
In the bottom of a glass, lightly muddle the leaves off one sprig of the mint leaves in the simple syrup and lime juice. You want to press out the mint oil from the leaves without tearing them up, as this might bring some bitterness to the drink. Add the rum (and the bitters, if you choose to), ice, and the club soda, and stir. The other lime sprig is for garnish.
El Draque grew into one of the most recognized drinks of the world. Over the 400 years the cocktail has been in existence it has changed little, but maintained a following, sometimes large, sometimes only for the adventurous. Light and refreshing, it is a perfect warm weather drink. Cheers!