The 500 Year History of the Mojito

The Mojito is a refreshing cocktail, considered by many to be the perfect drink for a hot day. So it’s fitting that National Mojito Day is celebrated on July 11th, in the heat of summer.

The First Mojito

As with many other cocktails, the exact origins of the Mojito are often disputed. However, one story traces the roots of the drink all the way back to the 1500s, which makes the Mojito one of the oldest cocktails still enjoyed to this day. In the 1500s, Sir Francis Drake landed in Havana, Cuba with the intention of sacking the city. During the unsuccessful invasion, many of his crew began suffering from dysentery and scurvy. 

 

A small party traveled ashore to seek assistance from locals who were known to have remedies for several diseases. The party returned with aguardiente de cana (a cane-spirit precursor to rum), mint leaves, and the juices from sugar cane and limes, which were used to make a tonic. A cocktail named “El Draque” which used the same ingredients later became popular in Cuba. 

 

There are several theories for how the name “Mojito” was later adopted for the cocktail. Some believe that African slaves working in the sugar cane fields coined the term Mojito from the word “mojo,” which means “to cast a spell.” Others have suggested that the name may have come from the Spanish word “mojado,” which means “wet.”

Increasing Popularity

Ironically, the arrival of Prohibition in the United States was one of the major factors that boosted the popularity of the Mojito. During Prohibition, Havana quickly became a drinking haven for wealthy Americans. The Mojito was a local favorite, as it was similar in flavor to the familiar Mint Julep.

 

The Mojito was also given a boost by one of its biggest fans, author Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway famously enjoyed Mojitos, and he was known to visit La Bodeguita del Medio, a bar in Havana, to drink them. His love for the cocktail is yet another factor that helped its popularity spread back in the United States.


More recently, another pop culture figure helped provide a bump in exposure for the Mojito. In the 2002 James Bond movie, Die Another Day, Pierce Brosnan’s Bond visits a bar in Cuba with Bond girl Jinx (Halle Berry). There, he orders a Mojito, a notable departure from his signature drink of choice, a vodka Martini.

Mojito Tips

Making a Mojito is slightly more labor-intensive than other cocktails because it involves muddling the mint. But if you’d like to try your hand at making one yourself, here are a few tips to ensure the end result is worth the effort. First, be sure to use an unaged white rum, rather than a dark rum. Combining white rum with the other ingredients of sugar, mint, lime juice, and soda water will give the cocktail its refreshing flavor.

 

The first step when making a Mojito is to muddle the mint with sugar or simple syrup. And no matter how tempted you are to get right into the mixing, don’t skip the muddling process. This will crush the mint, causing its oils to release. The fresh lime juice that’s added later will mix with the chlorophyll in the mint and cut down on the bitterness of the cocktail.

 

And when it comes to keeping your drink cool, not all ice is created equal. Use large ice cubes in your Mojito, rather than crushed ice. The greater surface area of large ice cubes will cause it to melt slower. Since the Mojito already includes soda water, it’s important to avoid diluting the cocktail further to preserve its flavor.

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