Although, according to booze experts, the mojito rum drink can be traced back a hundred years to the Havana nightclubs of pre-Castro Cuba (Ernest Hemingway is said to have consumed his share on that Caribbean island), I encountered my own first mojito in much less tropical environs. It was last winter at the opening of Deer Valley Resort’s Royal Street CafÃ©. Julie Wilson, Deer Valley’s food and beverage director, suggested a pre-dinner mojito cocktail to me. One sip of that heavenly mint-lime-rum blend, and I was hooked! Since then, I’ve enjoyed mojitos in places as disparate as L’Avenue restaurant in Sugar House, Las Vegas’ Rum Jungle and The Four Seasons Hotel in Philadelphia. It’s a drink mixologists worth their salt can make eyes closed.
The mojito—a yummy rum-based cocktail made with mint and limes—is the “It Girl” of the current cocktail scene. It’s sort of a tropicalized mint julep. And while thanks to its large Cuban population, mojitos have been popular in Miami for years, the drink has only recently found its way out of south Florida. You’ll find mojito madness at trendy bars such as Sushi Samba and Asia de Cuba in New York City, Bongo’s Cuban CafÃ© in Miami, Chicago’s Rumba and local hangouts like Banana Joe’s in Salt Lake City. Where Jaegermeister once ruled the roost, now Puerto Rican rum is king of the rum jungle.
Not that you have to wade through throngs of nubile South Beach models and Ricky Martin wannabes in an uber-cool nightclub to find mojito mojo. The drink is becoming so trendy and popular that it has made recent appearances on TV shows like Gilmore Girls, CSI: Miami and Sex and the City. The drink was also featured prominently in the James Bond flick Die Another Day. Nonetheless, not everyone has boarded the mojito bandwagon. In a recent survey of Americans, 8 percent of respondents thought a mojito was a breed of Chihuahua and 14 percent believed it to be a Spanish insect. The latter group was part right; in some instances mojitos do seem to have the effect of Spanish Fly.
Here is an easy basic recipe for a homemade mojito cocktail. The recipe makes one serving. Smash (the technical term is “muddle”) a dozen or so spearmint leaves and half a lime in the bottom of a tall cocktail glass. Ideally, you want to use a small wooden utensil in the shape of a baseball bat—a muddler—for this. A sawed-off broom handle or a spoon will also work just fine. Add 2 tablespoons simple syrup or 4 teaspoons superfine sugar and 1-1/2 ounces of quality rum such as Bacardi. Stir the mixture and add a handful of ice to the glass. Top off with club soda and garnish with a slice of lime and a sprig of mint.
A word of warning, however (no, this isn’t a disclaimer about drinking responsibly): It’s traditional after you’ve consumed your mojito to chew on the rum-infused mint leaves. And while this will make your breath minty fresh, keep in mind that you can identify mojito drinkers by the bits of mint pulp in their teeth. So put a mambo record on the player, and don’t forget to floss!
SIPS: Kudos to Eric DeBonis of Paris Bistro for thinking out of the box as regards corkage fees. Normal corkage at Paris is $10 per bottle. But the Paris has an offer you can’t refuse: According to DeBonis, he’ll waive one corkage charge for each bottle purchased from the restaurant. Sounds reasonable to me!