As I wander around my spring garden the irises are in bloom, the poppies are beginning to pop and the mint is, well, taking over everything. And when mint is taking over everything, there's only one thing any sane man should do ... make mojitos. A deceptively simple drink to make, the mojito is difficult to master. One just has to look at references in modern movies and television to notice how popular the drink has become in recent years. It was featured in the movie Bad Boys II, the James Bond Die Another Day, Shopgirl, The Pink Panther (the awful 2006 remake), an episode of Lost, an episode of The O.C. (albeit a virgin version), and in an episode of Family Guy where Brian the dog denies that it is a "gay" drink.
While the mojito may be enjoying somewhat of a renaissance as bartenders rediscover incorporating herbs in their drinks, mint leaves used for medicinal qualities and for flavoring have been used for centuries. Most modern spirits have their evolutionary tree going back to tinctures and medicines filled with herbs and other tonics. It's the primary ingredient (behind the bourbon) in a mint julep. A fresh mint leaf will reinvigorate a stale piece of gum. Its versatility cannot be questioned.
Modern mythology says the mojito comes from Cuba. But you probably didn't know that it was at it's most popular between the late 1890s and 1940 in the United States during the rise of Cuban popularity. Recently remarketed to popular culture by the Bacardi company, the drink is gaining ground as a retro classic. For the reading impaired, you can see an animated instruction on how to make a mojito at www.bacardimojito.com.
Other Internet references abound. One of our favorites is www.mojitocompany.com, a site started by two lawyers, who apparently fell in love with each other as well as mojitos. Their journey to find the history of the mojito took them back to Caribbean Pirate Richard Drake who in the late 1500s made a concoction called "El Draque" (the dragon) with mint, sugar, lime and aguardiente (an unrefined rum). Other origin stories abound that it was invented by Cuban field workers, African slaves or that it evolved from Kentucky's mint julep. Ultimately, stories settle on the most likely origin, being that Caribbean sugarcane workers squeezed sugar cane juice to make a juice called garupa, they also fermented it (and remnant cane) into a primitive alcohol called aguardiente. To combat the roughness, they most likely flavored it with a Cuban mint named Yerba Buena (not to be confused with the Californian Yerba Buena plant and original name of the city of San Francisco). Over the years it evolved and, whammo ... the mojito was born. On Mojito Company's site, they also sell a key tool needed to make a mojito.
You can make a mojito many ways but the key is to get the mint and lime and sugar all blending nicely. To do this, you need a muddler, a wooden stick used to pound down the ice, mint, lime and sugar. You can use sugar cubes, but powdered sugar works best. Even better, if you can get some pure sugar cane juice (available at some Latin markets) you'll be stylin'. There are many kinds of mint, but regular old spearmint will give you the strongest flavor. Crushed ice works best, but if you don't have it, use your muddler. Any old white rum will do, but remember, quality is quality and your taste buds will appreciate the few extra dollars a glass bottle will cost you over a plastic one. To top it off, use club soda. The Mojito Company likes to add Angostura Bitters to the drink. I recommend giving it a try. It wouldn't be out of ordinary for this other Caribbean concoction to be included in the mix.
There are many variations as well. You can use a flavored club soda, flavored rum, various kinds of mint or other kinds of fruit. Experiment. Who knows? Maybe you could invent the next new classic.