Okay, okay: maybe some might call this one a “modern classic,” but if Ernest Hemingway liked to drink mojitos, I'd say they're old enough to be considered a classic.
For a very long time, the mojito was my drink of choice when I went out. There was a period of my drinking life where I reasoned that it was silly to pay $9 for a gin and tonic when I was just as capable of pouring tonic water and gin into a rocks glass and squeezing a bit of lime over the whole affair. Mojitos, though? There seemed to be a whole lot more going on, like having to muddle mint and all that jazz. Or so I thought.
Turns out it isn't really that hard at all to make a good mojito. It's actually pretty damned simple, as we'll learn today.
One of the great aspects of the mojito is that it's a perfectly balanced drink. It's got mint, so it shares some DNA with the mint julep, but it's a little less booze-heavy, so you can have one or two of them over the course of a night without feeling like you need to take a nap on a park bench somewhere. It calls for rum, but even if you use a sub-par rum, the lime and mint and sugar will hand-wave away most of the faults. But even better: there's not too much lime or sugar. What I'm getting at is that all of the ingredients work in total harmony.
That said: when you make a mojito, you should do your best to help the cocktail along. As much as I like the drink, you aren't doing it any favors by using Bacardi and the lime juice that's pasteurized and made from concentrate. Ignore that warning, and you'll end up with a drink that's got a funky aftertaste and is way too tart and bitter.
Instead, use fresh mint, fresh-squeezed lime juice, and a decent rum (check our archives for some good recommendations). Store bought simple syrup shouldn't make a difference, and there's really no difference between one club soda and another.
Start with some generous mint leaves at the bottom of the glass. When you muddle them, don't work them over like they owe you money. Just mush them with a delicate hand: you just want to bring the oils to the surface so they can mix with the cocktail. Obliterating the mint causes bitter plant blood to mix into the cocktail, which diminishes the end result. You could also pile the mint leaves in your hand and give them one or two hard slaps to express the oils.
Now that we're down to the nitty-gritty, here's the basic recipe I like to use, along with a few other mojito variations worth your attention.
The Classic Mojito
2oz white rum
0.5oz lime juice
0.5oz to 0.75 oz simple syrup
2.5 oz club soda
Note the range of values on the simple syrup here. Like a lot of adults, I cut the calories when I can, but with a generous amount of club soda diluting the flavors in the drink and given the copious amount of lime juice, I will say I prefer the taste of my mojitos a little sweeter. Three quarters of an ounce seems to be the magic number with simple syrup so that it rises above the tartness—and once again, if you use Bacardi Silver in this you deserve exactly what you get. Check our archive for any number of much better white rums.
However, you can also make the mojito with a dark rum or extra-aged rum for something very luxurious. Just this one simple addition can really change the nature of the drink from something light and summery to something that works really well as an full-bodied apertif.
Note that you can also throw in a variety of fruits to muddle along with the mint leaves instead of the limes. Frozen blueberries or blackberries are nice for a sweeter version of the drink (but let them thaw out a little first before you try to muddle something that's hard as a rock). I prefer a cucumber basil version, personally, which uses these ingredients to replace the lime and mint. Note that if you use cucumber, muddle the basil leaves first and then cut the cucumber into a bunch of rings. Let everything marry in the glass for about five minutes before you add ice, because if you muddle the cucumber you're going to have a bunch of plant guts at the bottom of your glass.
If you've never made yourself a great mojito, there's no time like the present to start!