How I learned to stop complaining and love the Mojito

The Mojito is a classic summer cocktail. Its origins lie in Cuba, but the specifics (like many cocktails) are debated. Some believe that African slaves working in the sugar cane fields created an early version of the drink in the late 1800s as a way to beat the island heat. Others contend that the drink has its roots in an earlier drink created by a pirate by the name of Sir Richard Drake in the 1500s. His drink, called "El Draque," was a combination of lime, sugar, mint, and aguardiente (an early version of rum). Whoever invented it, the modern version of the cocktail famously found its way into Ernest Hemmingway's hands at La Bodeguita del Medio in Havana, and he helped bring it to the rest of the world through his writing.

The drink's specific recipe is also the subject of some debate. In the Twin Cities I have had some of the best- and worst-tasting cocktails that were all called Mojito. Here is the original recipe, some classic mistakes bartenders make, and one of my own twists on the classic.

The Mojito

2 parts light rum 1 part fresh lime juice (some recipes call for muddled lime) 1 part simple syrup (or about a tablespoon of cane sugar) 8 or so fresh mint leaves to muddle 1 sprig fresh mint for garnish 1-2 dashes Angostura bitters (optional) club soda

You can muddle limes if you want. Personally I think you get a fresher lime flavor out of a juicer (you can get a decent hand juicer from Kitchen Window or even Target for around $20). But whatever you do, do not over-muddle mint leaves! This will ruin your drink. Mint leaves just need to be gently pressed against the bottom of the shaker, not pulverized the way you would a piece of fruit. This is true of all herbs: A gentle press will release the essence of the herb; tearing it will make it taste grassy. So if you insist on muddling the limes, do that first and then add the mint leaves and gently press. This brings up another point: You should only be using the mint leaves and not the stalks they grow on. You should use a sprig of mint or a mint bouquet for the garnish. One key point here: This is your garnish; if the mint looks ugly and wilted, your drink will look ugly.

Second, the original recipe calls for sugar. These days we more often than not will use a simple syrup made of 1 part sugar to 1 part water (1:1) This is very easy to make and will save you time as well as add accuracy to your recipe.

To make the drink, add the mint leaves to the shaker and press gently against the bottom with your muddler. Add the rest of the ingredients to the shaker and fill with ice. Seal the shaker and shake hard for around 10 seconds, then strain the cocktail into a tall glass filled with fresh ice and top with soda water (or don't. I actually prefer the drink in a rocks glass without the soda). Stir gently and garnish with a mint sprig.

If you want to use liqueurs like triple sec in your Mojitos, go ahead and call it something else, like "Stevie's Supercool-ito" or whatever, but if someone orders a Mojito, make them a Mojito.

Its fun making up twists on drinks. For this one, using a liqueur is a quick way to do it. You could also add extra fruits by muddling or steeping in your simple syrup. Here is one variation I made of the drink that uses the flavor of green tea and the aroma of absinthe.

The Dream Hunter

2 parts light rum 1 part fresh lime juice 1 part green tea syrup (see recipe) 8 fresh mint leaves to muddle 2 dashes Peychaud bitters 1 sprig fresh mint for garnish 1 lime wheel for garnish Crushed ice

Press mint gently, add liquid ingredients.

Shake and strain into rocks glass rinsed with absinthe and filled with ice

Garnish with mint sprig and lime wheel.

Green tea syrup:

2 cups cane sugar 2 cups water 4-5 bags of green tea

Combine sugar and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add tea. Simmer until mixture reduces into a rich syrup. Remove tea and allow to cool. Keep syrup refrigerated (will keep for 3 weeks).

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