From its humble beginnings in the sugarcane fields of Cuba, the Mojito went on to conquer the world as a favorite of dignitaries, writers, celebrities, cocktail aficionados and tourists alike. Now, it’s impossible to imagine summertime anywhere without this refreshing drink.
Despite its simple recipe, the checkered history of the Mojito is as captivating as it is disputed. History journals trace the drink’s roots back all the way to Elizabethan 1586, when Sir Francis Drake – sea captain, privateer, navigator and global circumnavigator – and his buccaneers tried to sack Havana for its gold. Not necessarily a particularly stand-up guy considering his penchant for slave-trading, massacring of Irish civilians and his particular affinity for executing those who disagreed with him, his exploits was nevertheless forever immortalized in the pages of history.
While the invasion was unsuccessful, Drake’s associate, Richard Drake, was said to have invented a mojito-like concoction known as El Draque, a mixture of sugar, lime, mint and aguardiente (a crude forerunner of rum) – constructed for medicinal purposes to cure scurvy amongst the seafarers.
This drink continued to take root amongst rural farmers and laborers in Cuba as the rum of those days where barely drinkable – fierce, funky and heavy in fusel oils and other toxins. Tempering it with whatever diversions were at hand such as some citrus and sugar, both abundant resources in the Caribbean, seems like a pretty logical step for any determined drinker with a long night ahead.
Fast-forward to Prohibition and Havana’s rise as America’s favorite offshore cocktail lounge and the Mojito migrated from the farms to working-class beaches around the Cuban capital and then swept through the bars of Havana inland. Now it was elevated a bit, with the addition of carbonated water, lots of ice and a pretty glass.
Just like its origin, there are different stories surrounding the origin of the name “Mojito”. We realize that it is probably more likely that the name of this popular cocktail derives from the family of Caribbean spices and marinades called mojo, or the Spanish word mojato, which means “wet”— but we much prefer the theory that its name derives from mojo, an African word meaning to cast a little spell, as there’s certainly something rather magical about a well-made Mojito.
It’s this magic that has captured the imagination of it’s celebrity fan-base including legendary American author Ernest Hemingway who loved drinking mojitos whilst living in Cuba. While the author of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “The Old Man and the Sea” had the right idea, he definitely had some help putting the drink on the map. The French actress and femme fatale Brigitte Bardot and Australian actor Errol Flynn both did their bit to turn this zingy mixture into a worldwide trend. Movie appearances such as in the James Bond film “Die Another Day” and “The Rum Diary” starring Johnny Depp cemented the fame of the Mojito making it the most ordered cocktail on bar menus today.
Mixing up the Mojito
Never give up on a mojito, just try a different variation until you discover your fancy. Try some of the variations below, or keep experimenting to create you own twist. Who knows, it might become famous one day!
Mexican Mojito, replace the rum with tequila
Virgin Mojito, no alcohol
Dirty Mojito, dark spiced rum, brown sugar and key limes
English Mojito, replace the rum with gin (recipe below)
Mojito Royal, replace the soda with Champagne (Hemingway’s favourite)
Greek Mojito, with Metaxa, of course
Malibu Mojito, flavored with coconut
Lychee Mojito, with canned lychees from China or Thailand
Pomegranate Mojito, with pomegranate juice
50 ml Hope Salt River Gin
25 ml sugar syrup
1 lime, quartered
8 mint leaves
Soda water to serve
Add the sugar syrup, mint leaves and quartered lime to a glass. Gently muddle the lime quarters to release the juice whilst being careful not to bruise the white part of the rind as this will release bitterness. Top with soda water and ice, give the drink a gentle stir and garnish with a sprig of mint.
Note – To make the classic Mojito – simply replace the gin with equal quantities of rum.
Thanks to our friends at Hope on Hopkins for sharing this cocktail classic. Don’t miss their Martini Masterclasses at their artisanal distillery in Cape Town where you spend the evening shaking, stirring and sipping whilst assimilating the secrets and history behind several martinis.
Photography: Kleinjan Groenewald