Drink of the Week: The Mojito

the mojito Yes, I’ve been putting it off. Forgive me, I know not why I waited. The Mojito might be the trendiest drink going right now and there are the usual cocktail abuses committed by misguided bars, but overall it’s the kind of booze trend that even a staunch cocktail classicist can support.

Like so many classic cocktails, this venerable Cuban creation is a sturdy drink — great in the hot, moistish weather we’re still kinda sorta having in Southern California — that can bear a number of variations and is actually quite easy to make. And, or so the Wikipedians tell us, it’s possibly a relatively ancient drink and was even approved of by the Cuba and daiquiri loving Ernest Hemingway. What other encouragement do you need?

The Mojito

2 ounces light rum
1/2 to 1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice/wedges
1-3 teaspoons superfine sugar
2-5 sprigs of fresh mint
1-2 ounces (approx.) club soda or seltzer (sparkling water)

Combine lime juice and sugar — use more sugar to go with more lime juice or less to go with less — with mint in the bottle of an old fashioned glass or, perhaps, a smallish collins glass. Muddle enough to mix the sugar and juice and also lightly smash the mint leaves; they need not be pulverized. Add ice — very preferably crushed ice. Also add the spent lime wedges from your juicing. Stir vigorously with a swizzle stick or bar spoon — enough to melt some of the ice. Then, top off with a small amount of club soda or plain sparking water/seltzer and stir a bit more. It’s important to remember that last step. I know because I forgot a couple of times and wondered what was missing. Without just a dash of sparkle, a mojito fails to come alive.

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Though I provided a fair amount of flexibility above, there really are an enormous number of ways to skin the mojito cat and the ‘net provides no end of options. Even so, the simplest way I found was demonstrated by Rachel Maddow on a recent segment highlighted by this reasonable thought: “nuns deserve good drinks.” Her version was fairly similar to the way I make a caipirinha and involved less squeezing and measuring and definitely called for a wide-bottomed rocks glass on account of some heavy duty muddling. You basically just cut up a lime, throw in an entire tablespoon of sugar (!) and smash the heck out of it along with the mint leaves.

I found that version worked very nicely, but I was, to my own surprise, actually drawn more to the more squeezey/less smashy low lime juice and low sugar version promulgated by David Wondrich. If you keep the lime juice to 1/2 ounce, the natural sweetness of the rum and just one teaspoon of sugar is plenty to create a really full bodied refreshment. Still, the other ways are not one bit bad. There are doubtless many roads to mojito hell, most of them involving sour mix or who knows what other kinds of chemical monstrosities, but just as many paths to mojito enlightenment.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Caipirinha

CaipirinhaAs of right now, the national drink of Brazil isn’t that well known stateside. If the PR savvy makers of Leblon Cachaça have their way, however, the cachaça-based caipirinha will soon be doing battle with the mojito (which I promise we’ll be covering here shortly) for the title of most chic Latin American beverage in North America.

Because of U.S. labeling regulations, cachaça is frequently confused with rum. While rum is made from molasses, cachaça is made from sugar cane juice which makes them relatives, but anything but identical twins when it comes to flavor. As I understand it, most brands of the drink consumed in Brazil are also first-cousins to lighter fluid, but Leblon — the only brand I’ve tried so far — is of a far finer stripe and sells here for between $20-$30. The reason I know the brand is that it is buying influencing writers like me with bounteous alcoholic swag. Not a bad start, to be honest.

I’ve experimenting with the stuff for over a week and what I can tell you is that, like all really interesting booze, it’s a somewhat acquired taste, but I’m enjoying doing the acquiring. It has a complex flavor that is less sweet than rum or whiskey and is closer to dry gin or vodka, but with more than a hint of olives about it and some other odd flavors I can’t quite identify and am still getting used to. It makes an okay martini, but it’s terrific with a few splashes of ginger ale and a lot of ice. I’m sure there are lots of other classic drinks using gin or vodka it could be easily worked into.

So far, the Caipirinha, which is somewhere between and old fashioned and a mojito in terms of preparation, is the most intriguing way to go with cachaça that I’ve found, and it’s about as refreshing on a hot August night as any drink I’ve had. And, no, I have no idea how to pronounce the name of the cocktail, either.

The Caipirinha

2 ounces cachaça
2 teaspoons superfine sugar
1 lime

Cut a good sized lime into wedges. Add sugar and muddle vigorously in a rocks/old fashioned glass. The backside of a spoon won’t do here; you’ll want a proper muddler or a blunt instrument of some sort because you’ve really got to smash the lime wedges and sugar but good to form a sort of juicy paste. Add lots of crushed ice and pour the cachaça over it. Stir with a bar spoon or swizzle stick for maybe 30 seconds or longer to allow a lot of the ice to melt. Sip away.

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The recipe the Leblon people provided me called for the drink to be shaken with vigor for about 10-30 seconds, and you can do so either in a cocktail shaker or by shaking the concoction in the glass itself using a professional-type shaker. My personal opinion is that’s only necessary if you don’t have crushed ice, because you’ll need a way to extract some water out of that ice fairly quickly. If you’ve got crushed ice handy, my way is easier, tidier and, I think, tastier.

Not surprisingly, there are endless variations on the caipirinha theme, many of them involving smashed fruits of various sorts. I haven’t tried any of them yet, but a lot of them sound delicious and you can definitely check out more recipes at the Leblon website. Personally, I’m just thinking about raiding my fridge for whatever fruits are there and seeing what happens.

  

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