When James Bond sips on a refreshing-looking cocktail along a sun-soaked beach and offers it to a bikini-clad Bond girl, it inspired many folks to want to stir it up themselves. This drink, the Mojito, was muddled and stirred for an appearance with Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond in Die Another Day (2002), and while this may have accounted for some of its surge in popularity in recent years, its sweet yet refreshing citrus flavor and fresh mint no doubt have something to do with its staying power.
The origins of the Mojito, one of the most famous rum-based highballs, may be as muddled as the mint leaves floating throughout this cool cocktail. Some trace it back to the late 16th century and a medicinal drink named after Sir Francis Drake. Cuba was under Spanish rule and the story goes that the king of Spain had warned his governor in Cuba that he believed Drake intended to raid Havana to seize Aztec gold stored in the city’s royal treasury. Forces geared up and the city was well defended. After several days, however, there was surprised relief when Drake left Havana and its gold intact. But his visit was a major event—something perhaps worthy of naming a drink after, notes Simon Difford in his book Cocktails: The Bartender’s Bible.
Others say the drink didn’t have an association with Cuba originally but was invented onboard Drake’s ship and consumed for its perceived medicinal value. Sometimes spelled “Draque,” “Drak” or “Drac,” by the late 1890s, the local cane spirit in this drink was replaced with Bacardi rum and its popularity continued to grow—for more than “medicinal” uses.
Some say the Mojito was invented during Cuba’s thriving bar culture in the early 20th century, and especially during Prohibition, when Americans introduced the locals to the Mint Julep (see below). Havana’s Bodeguita del Medico bar stakes claim as the birthplace of the Mojito as we know it and notables including Ernest Hemingway enjoyed this drink there. A note reportedly signed by Hemingway reads: “My mojito in La Bodeguita, My daiquiri in El Floridita.”
The origin of the name “Mojito” is also muddled. It may come from “mojar,” a Spanish word meaning to wet, or from the African word “mojo” meaning a spell. No matter its origins, it is certainly spellbinding whether mixed up using the traditional recipe here or with your own flavored variations that stir in different fruit flavors using juices, liqueurs or the new flavored rums on the market. If you would like to mix up a Royal Mojito, use champagne in place of the soda in the classic version. For a Mojito de Casa, substitute tequila for the rum.
There is a good deal of summer left for more refreshing experimentation. Cheers!
12 fresh mint leaves
2 ounces white rum
¾ ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
½ ounce simple syrup
club soda, to top (optional)
Lightly muddle mint, just to bruise, in the base of a highball glass. Add rum, lime juice and sugar. Half fill glass with crushed ice and stir with a bar spoon. Fill glass with more crushed ice and stir. Top with soda, if desired.
More with Mint
A garden full of fresh mint plants might also inspire desire to whip up Mojitos. My husband, who has never had an interest in the garden, recently learned we have a bunch of mint growing—so what do you do with it? Mojitos, of course! He has used only about 4 leaves, but many recipes call for up to 12 leaves per drink, so you’ll want to experiment and see what level of mint flavor suits your taste.
When using fresh mint, it’s important to only lightly muddle rather than crush the leaves, which can release bitter inner juices. You’ll want to discard the stems, which taste bitter.
Make the most of your fresh summer mint—whether it’s from the garden, grocery store, or farmers’ market—by trying one of these refreshing cocktails, too.
Lightly muddle 9 to 12 mint leaves with ½ ounce simple syrup in the bottom of a tall glass. Add 2½ ounces bourbon and stir. Add some crushed ice and stir another 30 seconds. For variation, add a few dashes Angostura aromatic bitters.
Lightly muddle 7 fresh mint leaves in the base of a cocktail shaker. Add 2 ounces gin, 1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice, ¼ ounce crème de menthe liqueur and ½ ounce simple syrup. Shake with ice and fine strain into an ice-filled tall glass. Top with club soda and lightly stir. Garnish with mint sprig, if desired.
Lightly muddle 12 fresh mint leaves in the base of a cocktail shaker. Add 2 ounces gin, 1 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice and ½ ounce simple syrup. Shake with ice and fine strain into an ice-filled tall glass. Top with club soda and lightly stir. Garnish with mint sprig, if desired. (Not a fan of gin? Try it with vodka.)