I was never one to completely acquire the taste of alcohol. My 20’s was filled with experimental fruity drinks to mask the taste of booze. I definitely went through my flavored shots faze, lemons drops, jolly ranchers and a few others that do not come with politically correct names, so I won’t mentioned them. I worked as a cocktail waitress to pay the bills while I was in school, so I got degree-worthy knowledgeable of mixed drinks as well.
Six years ago, I found out I was allergic to alcohol after taking a series of allergy tests. Looking back, there were always signs, but I ignored them like most 20 somethings do. I would get buzzed off of a few sips of a drink, I would get hives and the worst headaches that would linger for days. Now, I’ll have an occasional mock-tail, all the flavor and calories of a drink without the alcohol.
Honestly, I never was much of a drinker, so mock- tails are a perfect little treat for me. My go to mock-tail is a mojito. The combination of sweet, tart and refreshing mint hits the spot for me! The best part is you can add any muddled fruit to kick it up a notch.
Mojito comes from mojo, the Spanish word meaning to assemble or blend. Like many classic cocktails, the origins of the mojito are fuzzy, but legend claims it originated when Cuban plantation masters began adding highly alcoholic sugarcane distillate to slaves' energy-boosting sugar water. Over time, mint and lime were added. Fast forward a couple hundred years to the 20th century, and the easy-to-drink combination became the go-to cocktail at Havana's many bars and clubs, eventually making its way to the United States.
The difference between a perfect mojito and an average one is the quality of ingredients. Since rum is not regulated by an international body, there's controversy over the perfect recipe for making quality levels of the spirit. It follows that rum-based cocktails, like the mojito, are often tainted by subpar alcohol made with synthetic sugars, added to sour mixes. When added to premium rum, fresh mojitos are lower-cal, healthier and tastier.
“The mojito must be all-natural. It must have a rustic flavor, no metallics that ruin the simple taste,” says Henderson. And this guy knows what he's talking about; Cuba Libre features a dozen signature mojitos and 98 types of rum to accompany its Cuban fare. “Fresh is always best. And mojitos are not meant to be strong and knock you on your butt.”
In the spirit of getting our future mojitos made correctly, we asked Henderson his best tips for making a classic mojito. Here's how it's done:
Always start with white rum. Rum, which is made from molasses, sugarcane juice or cane syrup can be white (unaged), golden or brown (aged in various types of wooden barrels). Since aged rums change a classic mojito's flavor with woody character, start with white rum for the purest expression of sugarcane. Once you experiment with various fruit mojitos and learn your rum preference, then change out the white with a higher proof or aged rum for spins on the classic.
Use guarapo rather than simple syrup. Squeezing the green-colored juice from sugarcane stalks is the most authentic way to sweeten a mojito. Stalks can be purchased at some natural food stores, such as Whole Foods, peeled and extracted with a high-powered electric juicer. When making fresh guarapo is not possible, combine one part raw or unprocessed sugar with one part water on a stovetop until dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool before mixing into the mojito.
Tear, rather than muddle, fresh mint leaves. When shaken with ice, torn mint releases its essential oils more easily, becoming more aromatic. Muddled leaves, on the other hand, retain much of the fresh flavor characteristic of the drink. The quality of mint also counts. Henderson recommends Israeli mint when possible, which contains more oils. Make sure mint leaves are not dry or browning.
Avoid bottled lime juice and sour mix. Limes are widely available most of the year and easily extracted for fresh juice, whereas bottled lime juices contain unnecessary preservatives. Choose limes that are somewhat firm and roll one to loosen juices before squeezing.
Ready to get your real mojito on? Here is a classic recipe courtesy of Cuba Libre in Washington, D.C. and resident mixologist and bar manager, Vance Henderson.
1 ½ ounces white rum
2 ½ ounces guarapo (sugarcane juice)
1 ¼ ounces fresh lime juice
6 mint leaves
1 splash soda
Combine mint, lime and guarapo in a shaker. Add rum and ice. Shake vigorously and pour in a collins glass. Splash with club soda and garnish with a lime wedge.