Revisiting the Mojito

By

Normally, when I revisit a cocktail, I just amend the previous cocktail post to correct errors, update information, et cetera.  However, with the Mojito, I am actually paying another visit to it, on account of a competition that is being held currently by the True Originals campaign.  In doing so, I figure I ought to provide a bit more information about the Mojito, but also go into detail on my own variation.


After hearing about the competition, I sat down for an entire weekend and thought about what to do with the Mojito.  I sat there drinking a Mojito, thinking about the ethos of the cocktail as a whole.  Reflecting, I thought of a few things: changing the spirit; varying the sweetener; adjusting the body through use of texture; changing the perfuming agent; changing the ratio of ingredients; changing the type of herb; et cetera.  Starting off with theories about texture, I went the wrong direction as Ted Heigh would later point out.  I tried making a hybrid between the Ramos Gin Fizz and the Mojito, using egg whites and a bunch of dry shaking to froth the damn thing to levels of a nice creamy consistency.  However, this was a bad idea: the mint was lost, the appearance was strange, and the flavor had a slight talc-like finish thanks to the egg.  While working with this, I tried using mint syrups I made myself, by quickly blanching the mint in warm water, then measuring the water and turning that water into a mint syrup through the addition of Castor sugar.  Alas, this was a huge failure.  So I thought about perhaps trying different varietals of mint, and varying the sweetener further by using unorthodox sweeteners such as molasses syrups or rice syrups.  Each was a failure, and dismayed me further.

Showing up at Cana Rum Bar for a Scotch cocktail tasting, I ended up sitting across from the cocktail expert and historian, Ted Haigh.  Thrilled, I spent the entire evening picking his brain, as we sat and imbibed and criticized various Scotch cocktails, while simultaneously delighting over a bottle of rum distilled in 1917 which he brought to share (I got to take home the remaining portion of the rum, much to my ecstatic pleasure).  Eventually I got around to talking with Ted about the competition, and we spoke about the use of various other herbs.  Throwing around ideas of lemon grass, basil, and tarragon, I left feeling rejuvenated and pleased with a new found sense of direction. When I got home that night, I sat going through various flavors of herbs, thinking about each, and how to capture the refreshing quality found in the Mojito but with a completely different flavor, and imbuing a new dimension in the cocktail.  Having tried the First Growth, and thinking about the use of sage in culinary cuisine, I realized that while sage is filled with a warm spiciness, which would be similar to something such as peppermint. Flipping through one of the best sources on the Mojito, that being the Floradita cocktail book (Bolton 42), I figured that sage could be used instead of herba buena which I do not have at my disposal.

Herba buena, or the “good herb,” for those who do not know, is a species of mint that varies from region to region, and thus has various different flavors and aspects.  In some regions, it is more similar to a peppermint than to a spearmint.  In the region of Cuba, it refers to Mentha nemorasa, which is rather similar to Mentha suaveolens, also known as apple mint.  Bacardi which originated in Cuba, is one of the brands that labels itself as being famous for the original “Mojito.”  While this may or may not be true, what is known that when the Mojito was being made in Cuba, and when they would have used Bacardi, the mint type would have been similar to apple mint.  Thus, since I actually grow apple mint in my yard, I had a mint which I could use in conjunction to the sage, which would provide a contrasting, yet still refreshing, flavor reminiscent of light pepper notes.

The next day, I stumbled into Cana once more, this time for a rum tasting.  While sampling rhum agricoles, including the rhum agricole I used originally for this drink, I realized I was going the wrong direction, and that the perfume-like, and thus delicate, nature of the agricole would not stand up to the strong vivacious nature of sage, and it would definitely clash against the mild apple-like flavor of apple mint.  I will be honest here: I never thought fondly of Bacardi.  I had these preconceptions that Bacardi would be disgusting, shallow, lacking depth of flavor.  However, I was pleasantly surprised, since after picking up a bottle, I realized that it is excellent for mixing with, and that the flavor, while having light notes of molasses, blends exceedingly well with other things.  Furthermore, the dry character of the Bacardi lends more ability to the sweetener to do its’ job, and give more flavor to the overall drink, rather than some other white rum which would overly sweeten the cocktail.  So I decided that Bacardi would be best, standing up to the herbs, while letting the herbs retain their flavor.  Yet, the problem still remained of what to use as a sweetener.

Stopping by my favorite bar and restaurant, I talked with Jason Schiffer of 320 Main, bartender and owner, about this competition (I fear lest he decides to enter, since he is brilliant when working with ingredients).  We threw around ideas of sweetening agents; while talking with him I pointed out that the Collins is rather similar to the Daisy, and that perhaps I could create a hybridization of the Edward Spencer’s Daisy with the Mojito (a type of rum Collins with mint).  Jason noted that Yellow Chartreuse, the sweetening agent in Spencer’s drink pairs really well with apples.  Having accumulated ideas, I decided to dedicate a night to making Mojitos.  After far too many, I learned that the Yellow Chartreuse was a bit too sweet, so I changed the recipe and used a mixture of lime juices: both Key lime, and Persian lime.  Persian lime, or simply known as lime in the United States, has a sweeter note; Key lime possesses a stringent bitter component.  Still, even after mixing the two, which created a wonderful depth of flavor, I realized the drink was lacking, and still somewhat sweet.  While it might be refreshing, it doesn’t bring out the sage fully.

As such I thought about what goes well with lime: in the Last Word cocktail, we see Green Chartreuse working marvelously with lime juice. Replacing the Yellow with the Green, I found that Green Chartreuse, not only heightens the flavor of the sage and the apple mint, but keeps everything in check.  However, the rum was lacking ever so slightly.  While the drink still works with Bacardi Superior, the rum loses some dimension of flavor since it can’t stand up to the dominating the overwhelming Green Chartreuse; as such, I went on a wild goose chase to find what Bacardi to use.  Learning about Bacardi 1909, I picked up a bottle and found that it worked marvelously, standing up not only to the Green Chartreuse in terms of flavor but also giving the drink a more historical sense of value.  Bacardi 1909 is made at the original proof of Bacardi, that being 44.5% alcohol by volume.  The spirit has a stronger flavor, and thus can present itself in the drink better.  Do note that normal Bacardi Superior does work well in this drink, but it is not as optimal as Bacardi 1909.  Now, the only thing to come upon was the name.

Thinking about the ingredients, I saw certain themes such as age, sophistication, and history imparted by the various ingredients.  The mixture of two types of lime, the use of two herbs, the history and complexity of Chartreuse and the history Bacardi…  All of these things encouraged me to think of interpellating the cocktail with a name with connotations of complexity and wisdom.  Yet I continued my research.  Looking into the herbs, I learned that both sage and mint are useful for medicinal purposes.  Furthermore, I know that Chartreuse, which is based off of the Chartreuse EV, or Elixir Vegetal, and was originally known as the “Elixir of Long Life.”  With quite a bit of medicinal ingredients, I decided to name the drink Panacea, meaning cure all.

However, what good is a cocktail without the use of bitters, something which has medicinal properties?  So throwing in a dash of Angustora, which I found works wonderfully, this drink truly became a cure all: it fixes upset stomachs (bitters, mint and Chartreuse); it is antibiotic and antifungal (sage); it is a decongestant (mint); it even cures sobriety (rum and Chartreuse); et cetera.  The drink is literally a Panacea.  Well not literally, but the ingredients, when taken apart, are known to have medicinal purposes (even rum was considered by the British Navy to be useful as a “tonic”).  Plus I can attest that it works wonderfully as a Reviver cocktail, similar to a Fizz, it uplifts the body with its’ effervescence and the wonderful citrus notes and herbal notes; however, unlike a Fizz, the depth of flavor is far more complex and exciting.

The flavor is excellent: peppery, but still refreshing.  It has light apples notes, a nice muted mint flavor, good citrus components, as well as the depth of flavor provided by Chartreuse, and light molasses and vanilla notes given by the Bacardi.  It should appeal to both men and women, young and old, given the depth of flavor, and while the sage is prevalent, it is unique and makes the drink suitable as an after dinner drink, or as a reviver, something which is not common with the Mojito. It is not complicated to make, yet still retains a sense of refined sophistication that makes it a nice change of pace from the traditional.

In order to preserve the flavor and prevent over dilution, I have chosen to use large cubes of ice.  Ideally, you want to make these cubes by means of cutting a large block of ice, which will help prevent it from melting quickly and overly diluting the drink.  Likewise, by freezing the glassware, you produce a lovely method of chilling the drink and keeping it cool to the touch, similar to how a Mojito using crushed ice would turn out.  As I noted when talking about the Mojito earlier: while crushed ice is nice, it only leads to faster melting thanks to increased surface area, and thus, more dilution; a beverage where flavor is highly important deserves to retain its’ taste for as long as possible.  Since there is already water added to the beverage, that causes dilution and hinders flavor; hence another reason I chose to use Bacardi 1909, which has more alcohol and more strength of flavor (Thomas 14).

Nota bene: I am using seltzer, literally, for this cocktail.  I do not want to add more sweetener, and I do not want to taint the cocktail with salt traces or mineral traces.  So I use filtered, clean water which has been carbonated in a soda siphon.  This preserves the flavor even more so in the drink. All I want is to add some effervescence.

The Panacea:

2 ounces Bacardi 1909 (Bacardi Superior will work as well)
3/4 ounce Persian lime juice (Citrus latifolia)
1/4 ounce Key lime juice (Citrus aurantifolia)
3/4 ounce Green Chartreuse
1 dash Angustora bitters
5 leaves apple mint (Mentha suaveolens)
4 leaves sage, 1 for garnish (Salvia officinalis)
1 1/2 ounce soda water

Taking three leaves of sage, and five of apple mint, place at the bottom of a frozen Collins glass.  Add the Chartreuse, one dash of Angustora bitters, as well as the lime juice to the glass, and gently muddle to extract flavor.  Filling the glass with cubed ice, add the Bacardi.  Give the drink a brisk stir, moving the leaves upwards and around the sides of the glass for presentation.  Top with upwards of one and a half ounces of soda water and give one more brisk stir to blend the soda water with the cocktail.  After which, take the last sage leaf, slapping it in your hands it to extract aromas, and then gently rub the rim of the glassware with the leaf; for the garnish, place the leaf next to a thin slice of key lime which is positioned on the glass.

—–

Bolton, Ross.  2008.  Bar Florida Cocktails.  Originally published 1935.   Scotts Valley: CreateSpace.  

CocktailDB: The Internet Cocktail Database. “Mojito Criollo.” CocktailDB.com. http://www.cocktaildb.com/recipe_detail?id=1513 (accessed May 10, 2010).

DeGroff, Dale. 2008. The Essential Cocktail: The Art of Mixing Perfect Drinks. New York: Clarkson Potter/Publishers.

Fernandez, Maria Elena.  2001.  “Shake It Up, Baby: Cuban Cocktail Is Making a Splash” in the Los Angeles Times.  August 12, 2001.  http://articles.latimes.com/2001/aug/12/news/cl-33266 (accessed May 10, 2010).

Jackson, Michael.  1995.  Michael Jackson’s Bar and Cocktail Companion: The Connoisseur’s Handbook.  Originally published 1979.  Philadelphia: Running Press.

Norman, Jill.  2002.  Herbs and Spices: The Cook’s Reference.  New York: DK Publishing, Inc.

Thomas, Jerry.  1887.  Bartender’s Guide.  Reprint of original.  New York: Dick and Fitzgerald.

Wondrich, David. 2007. Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar. New York: Penguin Group.