As a cocktail, how do you know when you’ve reached your place in history? Could it be when you’re on the menu of every chain restaurant and a summer drink standard? Maybe it’s when James Bond drinks you on the big screen or when pop stars like Steve Winwood, R. Kelly and R.E.M. croon about you? Or it is when you have a national day in your honor?
If your interest is piqued, get ready to enjoy a classic mojito, a timeless refresher that should be on everyone’s summertime cocktail list.
While many people only began hearing about the mojito in the 1990’s when it started tearing up the red hot bar scene in Miami’s South Beach, the mojito has been around for centuries.
The mojito, a refreshing mixture of mint, lime, sugar, rum and soda, was born in Cuba. Its early roots can be traced back to 1586, when Captain Francis Drake tried to sack Havana and seize the Aztec gold stored in Havana’s royal treasuries.
While the invasion was unsuccessful, Drake did not leave without impacting Cuba. His subordinate, Richard Drake, invented a cocktail known as the draque. This concoction, made with aguardiente (a crude forerunner of rum), sugar, lime and mint, was served with a wooden spoon and consumed mainly for medicinal purposes
During the mid-1800s, around the same time the original Bacardi Company was established in Cuba, the draque recipe was altered. Bacardi was substituted for aguardiente, becoming the mojito.
Other accounts suggest that slaves working in Cuban sugar cane fields in the late 19th century invented the mojito.
It’s not known where the name came from. Some believe it comes from mojo, a creole seasoning made with lime or it was derived from mojadito (Spanish for “a little wet”).
The cocktail became further popularized during prohibition when Cuba became America’s offshore bar destination. There is a rumor that Earnest Hemingway drank them at a bar called La Bodeguita del Medio in Havana. Although according to historian Phil Green, author of “To Have and Have Another-A Hemingway Cocktail Companion,” there is no solid proof of this. Perhaps it was just a clever marketing ploy because now, thanks to its Hemingway connection, the bar is a popular tourist haunt. When I visited the place, the mojitos there were twice as expensive as other bars in Havana.
The mojito’s popularity exploded once it hit the SoBe and when it was featured in a huge marketing campaign by Bacardi. Its popularity comes with good reason – it’s an invigorating minty fresh potable with a subtle rum kick.
James Bond drank one in “Die Another Day.” R. Kelly sips them before making love in a “Taxi Cab.” R.E.M. mentions them in the party tune “Beachball,” Ice Cube raps about them in “Too West Coast” and the gunrunner in Steve Winwood’s “Secret,” drinks “mojitos with the boys.”
As for National Mojito Day, you’ve just missed it, it fell on July 11. But why not celebrate all summer long?
So where to imbibe? Adams Morgan mainstay “Havana Village” mixes up a mean one and just down the street, Rumba Café, rates #1 on Foursquare for mojitos. Cuba Libre in downtown is known not only for the original version, but they also offer a variety fruity mojitos as well.
If you’re in serious party mode, you can join DC’s Mojito March on Aug 12, which hits several bars in Dupont Circle on Aug. 12. Or you can simply make them at home.
1 1⁄2 oz. white rum
2 tsp. simple syrup or 4 tsp. sugar
12 fresh mint leaves
Muddle mint and lime in a Collins glass. Cover with simple syrup or sugar, top with ice. Add rum and top with club soda. Stir well. Garnish with lime wedge and mint sprig.