Fun fact about me: I am a bartender, and I have a very unfortunate allergy to mint. This means the mojito is the one drink I never studied with any ernest or enthusiasm. However, even I can't deny that a bubbly, lime-y, rum forward drink with tons of refreshing mint (which I do remember fondly from the times before my allergy developed) just sounds right on those worst Memphis summer days.
In preparation of hot weather—and Bari's new move with a patio space!—I've spent the last couple of months researching the drink that has long eluded me, allergies be damned, to develop the perfect mojito for all of our patio dreams.
The mojito seems to be one of those drinks that is a) harder to make at home than it appears b) comes out of many bars more mediocre than wonderful. Sometimes they're too weak; sometimes too sweet; almost always not minty or thick enough. Let's change that.
While I think the following information will be nothing short of a wonderful read, you can also scroll to the bottom of the page to skip to the recipe. It won't hurt my feelings.
Step One: Rum
I'm only going to say this one time: Stop buying bad rum. It's not that I have anything against Bacardi or any other cheaper version of rum on principle. But there are just so many ultra-affordable versions that are significantly higher quality, you're really cheating yourself out of a great drink without really saving yourself that much money.
Rum is a lot like vermouth in terms of its cost:quality ratio. Both of these bottles are known generally as something a lot of drinkers love to live without, and it's almost always because you're buying the absolute cheapest bottle available. Rum is a unique spirit in terms of its production, and you can find some incredible bottles under $30 that makes spending the money on the cheap stuff just look silly.
For your mojito, you're going to want a light rum (often called silver or white rum) to blend seamlessly with the other flavors of the drink. My favorite brands for a mojito are:
- Bacoo 3 Year White Rum ($18ish) Dominican Republic. Aged 3 years and filtered. Tropical fruit. 86 proof makes it drier and cuts through sugars well.
- Plantation 3 Star White Rum ($29ish) Virgin Islands (U.S). Grassy. Vanilla and candied citrus. Great in mojitos and daiquiris.
- Diplomatico Plantas Rum ($32ish) Venezuela. Aged up to 6 years. Strong aroma of coconut and coffee. Creamy. Delicious.
When you're making your own cocktails, you're going to get out what you put in—so put in something great.
Step Two: Sugar
Sugar is your friend in cocktails. Have you ever had a drink that tasted thin and watery instead of full and velvety in your mouth? It's probably because it didn't have enough sugar.
Sugar does not always indicate the sweetness in a drink. Sugar does indicate the texture. I think about sugar in drinks like a fat in cooking:
A bottled liqueur (such as St. Germain) is like olive oil: it has sugar, but not enough to give you a thick, beautiful texture. Just using a liqueur often results in a dry drink, which is great for a Corpse Reviver but maybe not a mojito.
Simple Syrup is like butter: the equal ratio between water and sugar creates a syrup that will add the necessary sweetness to balance the alcohol and citric acid while adding some weight to your drink, much like adding butter to a dish gives it more depth and comfort than oil.
Rich Simple Syrup/Demerara Sugar Syrup is like brown butter: rich simple syrup is a type of sugar syrup with twice as much sugar as water. This syrup is almost always used for texture over just making something sweet; I often think of this style of syrup in a cocktail like using a roux in cooking.
Most mojitos use muddled raw sugar. I'm not always opposed to this method, but a simple syrup is my preferred sugar because it mixes more cohesively with the other ingredients and doesn't leave large grains of sugar in the bottom of the glass.
Step Three: Mint
This part is pretty straightforward. Use fresh mint. Use lots of mint. And don't muddle. Don't muddle? Say what?
Mint is a fickle plant. When you grind it down, it releases its bitterness and your mojito goes from being refreshing and delightful to swampy and underwhelming.
Instead of muddling, hold the mint in the palm of one hand and slap it very hard with your other. This "wakes up" the oils in the herb without damaging the actual plant, keeping your flavor in tact. I do press the mint with a muddling stick when making my mojitos, but I never grind it down in the glass like I'm grinding down sugar for an old fashioned.
Step Four: Lime
Use fresh limes. And always squeeze them into your measuring jigger to get a precise measurement instead of just squeezing it directly into your glass. The limes we get in April won't be the same as the ones we get in July, and the most disappointing thing you can do to a drink with good rum is add way more acid than you need because you were too lazy to measure.
Step Five: Soda Water
The mojito is what is known as a long style drink, meaning it has quite a bit more mixer than spirit. This is why it's such a great drink for summer!
Choose your favorite soda water. Chill it until very cold. Done! I like Fever Tree Soda Water and Topo Chico the best for my cocktails.
You're probably tired of me talking by now. I get that. So let's make a cocktail!
2 oz White Rum
1 oz Fresh Lime Juice
.75 oz Simple Syrup
12-15 Mint Leaves
2-3 oz Soda Water
1 Whole Lime, for peels
Plenty of Ice
1. Hold about 5 mint leaves in the palm of one hand. With your dominant hand, slap the herbs and gently roll between your palms. You should immediately smell the mint oils release from the plant. Repeat twice for a total of about 10 leaves.
2. Drop mint into the bottom of a large Collins glass. Using a vegetable peeler, peel off 2-3 strips of lime peel, careful not to include the bitter white pith. Pour simple syrup over the lime peels and mint leaves. Using a muddler, gently press the herbs and citrus into the syrup. Do not grind it or break the mint down! (Note: If you are using raw sugar, muddle the sugar before you add the mint so you're not grinding down the herbs!)
3. Add rum and lime juice to the glass. Pour everything into a shaker tin, but don't add ice yet. Set aside for now.
4. Hold about 3 mint leaves in the palm of one hand. With your dominant hand, slap the herbs and gently roll between your palms. Add to the bottom of your collins glass. Add cracked ice (you can crack regular cubed ice using the back of a kitchen spoon) to hold the leaves in the bottom of the glass. Fill the rest of the glass with cracked or crushed ice.
5. Add 3-4 medium sized cubes of ice to your shaker tin with the mojito mixture. Shake well for about 30 seconds until very cold.
6. Strain the mojito mixture into your glass filled with ice and mint leaves. Pour soda water over the rum mixture.
7. Using a long bar spoon, swizzle the mixture together—place the head of the spoon down to the bottom of the glass. Place your palms on either side of the spoon handle and rub your hands together with the spoon between them, turning the head of the spoon in the glass quickly. This both chills and mixes your soda/rum mixture together.
8. Garnish with extra mint springs and a straw. Enjoy! Best paired with your pod friends outside wherever you feel the hottest. (Figuratively and literally.)
Remember, friends! Cocktail recipes are guidelines not gospels—feel free to adjust this drink to however you love your drinks.