Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Mojito: The Julep that hit it big

There is perhaps no concoction that better defines the mass cocktail experience than the mojito. The Cuban classic, adored by Hemingway and, according to the good folks at The Lonsdale, Francis Drake, is now a mainstay of near-every bar. In the UK, even the most unambitious pubs will frequently muddle one up and, in the US, hearsay reliably informs me that restaurants often devote whole pages to dozens of uninspired variations, of which I'm willing to bet about half feature passion-fruit. There may be a couple of particularly cautious voles left who haven't yet encountered one, but not by the end of the year they will have tentatively sipped a few drops out of a discarded straw and declared them their new favourite  At 'The Hawksmoor' in London (an excellent steakhouse, an even better bar) their chronologically structured menu rather cockily places their own Shaky Pete's Ginger Brew as the tipple of the 21st century, consciously eschewing the identikit drinks (the mojito, the cosmopolitan) that really dominate the scene.
There are good reasons for its success. The mojito is easy to serve: it doesn't require any shaking, its ingredients are readily available and even a ham-fisted version (muddled lime wedges, grainy sugar, pulverised  mint etc) will be just about drinkable. It's easy to drink too: in fact, it's one of the most consumable drinks imaginable. Packed with crushed ice and fragrant mint, attractive in both sight and scent, moreishly sweet, with the piquant hint of lime, a perfect co-partner to the fruity, grassy rum. What's not like? You probably want one right now. In fact, in deference to your weakness, here's a damn good recipe.

The Mojito

50ml or 2 shots Havana Club 3yr/ Havana Club anejo blanco
White rum is the base for any great mojito - aged rum and mint are not necessarily ill-matched but the classic mojito flavour is centred on white rum - and Havana Club rums are the gold standard in this case. It's not even about authenticity or 'drinking what the Cubans drink', the drink just works best with the fresh, slightly vegetal, sweet flavours of this rum. I've done a lot of sampling.

12.5ml or 1/2 shot fresh lime juice + 6.25ml or 1/4 shot fresh lemon juice/ 20ml lime juice
The use of both lemon and lime juice apes the slightly softer taste of Cuban lime juice. Fresh squeezed juice is clearly necessary. Lemon and lime wedges are not: the peel of citrus contains a lot of bitter flavour that have no place in a mojito. The combination of lemon and lime juice is a minor tweak unlikely to be used in even very good bars for reasons of time and simplicity, but if at home, it does noticeably improve the drink.

12.5ml 2:1 cane syrup or gomme

10-15 fresh spearmint leaves

Gently muddle the mint in the base of a highball, add the other ingredients and a scoop of crushed ice and swizzle. Add more crushed ice and cap with the merest dash of soda. Deck with fresh mint and flick it to release the aroma.

If you're going to have a mojito, that's pretty much as good as they come.

In truth, it's not even that the mojito craze has lead to a dearth in quality (though many examples are undoubtedly poor), but that its overwhelming popularity and the ensuing omnipresence have inevitably eroded their pedigree, even when well-made.. Let me be clear: the mojito, when well-made, is a great cocktail and a good drink does not become a bad drink, simply because it has become well-known, but drink (or worse, serve) ten thousand mojitos and them alone, and what ought to be a luscious, vibrant union of perfectly harmonious ingredients starts to become 'the usual'. It's a shame to see a drink of such inherent quality shorn of its exoticism and excitement, but that's the ironic paradox of success. So next time you're at the bar, maybe think about ordering something a little less familiar, something you haven't seen before; after all, it could be the next mojito.

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