Liquid A/C: The Mojito that Hemingway Loved
If you’ve been anywhere near the east coast of the US in the last few days, you know it’s hot. Viciously hot. July hot. Fucking hot. In such dire conditions, nothing calms, soothes, and cools the soul better than a mojito – the tartness of the lime, the mintiness…of the mint, the light spritz of the soda, and of course, the lovely kick of rum allowing you to sink into a chair and forget all about the muggy misery outside. The history, etc, of the drink has been beaten to death online, so I’ll spare you. Suffice it to say this wartime imbibement shot back to popularity in the last several years, and if you’re reading this blog, you’ve for sure heard of it. A few more thoughts on this classic, and how to make the best one after the jump.
So said that beast of a man Ernest “Sir Drinksalot” Hemingway about one of his two favorite drinks in his Havana days, drunk at La Bodeguita del Medio, a now legendary bar in old Havana, still in existence, and still quite popular, judging by the number of branches it’s spawned across the world (including Beirut).
I first got into them back in my fake ID days, and have been on a quest for perfection ever since. Years later, thanks to the Bodeguita and their official recipe, I do believe I’ve found it. Many bars make mojitos with fruit, with too much soda, with WAY too much sugar, or with – God forbid – sour mix or sprite. While some deviations can be good and very refreshing, the Bodeguita version just has that magic alchemy and synergy that makes it far more than the sum of its parts.
It doesn’t drown out the other ingredients in sugar or lime, it’s gentle with the mint, which is actually better for mintiness, and it goes easy on the ice. Let me address the last two points. When muddling mint, lightly pressing it actually releases the right kind of essential oils, whereas really pounding it to bits extracts the more herbal and vegetal elements – not so nice. As for ice, the official Bodeguita recipe calls for four cubes, that’s it. To the modern cocktailian, this may seem like blasphemy, sacrilege, or at best – shoddy drinkmaking. At first I didn’t get it. But it dawned on me – it forces you to drink slower and enjoy it more, because who wants to drink a warm drink? When had slowly, the ice has time to melt and properly chill the drink, and it also allows more dilution to come from the soda water, which adds a nice, fizzy effervescence.
The end result is just fantastic – it’s supremely well balanced, strong but not obliterating, and eminently refreshing in weather like we’ve been having recently in DC. Here’s the official We Ball Harder method:
- Take a collins or highball glass similar to the one pictured, about 10 oz or so.
- Add into it 2 full sprigs of fresh spearmint (or yerba buena if you happen to be in Cuba), or enough to loosely fill the glass at least halfway.
- Add a teaspoon of superfine sugar (NOT simple syrup, NOT guarapo, NOT brown sugar, despite what others may say. Evaporated cane juice sugar whizzed in a food processor works very well.
- Add just squeezed lime juice, between half a lime and a whole one, depending on your taste and how big or small the lime is. You want between half an ounce and an ounce, but no need to be too precise.
- Add a generous glug of soda water/seltzer/club soda, by which point the liquid should come most of the way up the mint in the glass, or just under halfway up the glass in total. MOST recipes say to add the soda at the very end, but don’t do it – it results in a a weak-tasting drink. Adding it at the start seems to incorporate it better.
- Take your muddler, preferably wooden, and gently muddle the mint and the liquid ingredients.* The soda will froth up, that’s fine. Do this for about 10 seconds until the glass has a limey-minty smell to it. When the happens take the muddler and drag the mint up around the inside of the glass. It should now smell a bit more minty.
- Add rum. For authenticity use Havana Club Añejo 3 Años or Añejo Blanco, but for those of us in the Unfortunate States, Flor de Caña Extra Dry or Brugal White are by far the best options. If you use Bacardi…then…good luck, but you don’t ball hard at all.** Add 1.5 to 2 oz depending on how strong you want it. 1.5 is very well balanced, 2 has a good kick. La B del M says 1.5 but feel free to take a liberty on this.
- Stir it all up to mix, and add 4 chunky ice cubes, or if smaller machine-made cubes, a few more. Stir very well again to chill the drink somewhat.
- Garnish with another mint sprig (optional), and serve with a straw. As much as I usually disdain straws, I feel the mojito benefits from being drank through one.
- ENJOY, homies, and feel the heat dissipate.
*Muddling is not the same action across all ingredients and drinks. For a mojito, you definitely want a wooden, smooth-surfaced muddler (not one of those God-awful ones with flakey varnish on it!), and the motion should consist of an up-and-down pounding, with some twisting action, but overall, be gentle, because the goal should be to press and squeeze the mint instead of tearing it.
**Unless you have an ancient bottle of Cuban pre-embargo Bacardi, in which case you ball VERY hard indeed.