It’s not a drink for the last day of summer. It’s a drink for the first week of fall. How did a potion of high seas battle and humble garden toil become the symbol of suburban patio tranquility? It’s time to reappropriate Mojito.
1) Of all the misconceptions about Mojito, the most curious is that it’s a summer drink. Mojito is a harvest drink. It’s the drink that circumvents the first frost. You wait until that crisp September moment before the mint turns to a patch of green slush in the corner of the garden, and the sparrows race like drunken crop dusters into the front window, bellies full of fermented crab apples—only then can you make Mojito.
The game is to get your mint out of the earth the moment before the frost—not a moment after, and not a moment before that. This is called the window of maximum mint. If you miss the window, you’re condemned to a wretched season of Colgate Mojitos. (The harsher spearmint of Crest would invoke unmanageable regret.)
2) Why was the mint left on its own in the corner? If you planted your mint between the tomatoes, it would have enhanced their flavour, while simultaneously keeping away aphids. The web bursts with ways to use up large quantities of mint in one sudden burst—jelly, chutney, pesto, chiclets. Beyond basic garden mint, it’s worth experimenting with the canon of gimmick varieties, which range from chocolate to pineapple. A “pineapple mojito” does not actually use pineapple. It would be like adding actual pineapple to sauvignon blanc—it’s the way the grape ferments that creates the nuance.
3) Rip two big handfuls of whatever variety mint from your garden. Do not be precise. If you get a few stems of basil or lemon thyme, some Snapdragons and a bit of mud, even better. Cram both handfuls directly into your cocktail shaker.
4) Yes, a shaker. If you feel strongly about Mojito, if you get up early in the morning to make simple syrup, and patiently bruise your mint with your grandfather’s muddling device as the cocktail hour approaches, if you think this has anything to do with Bacardi, trust me, you need to stop reading now. The conventional thinking is that leaves must be painstakingly separated from stems, that stems will infuse too much bitterness—this is such precious “mixologist” bullshit. Even if there is such thing as stemmy bitterness, it will not stand up to the ferocious quantities of booze and sugar you are about to add.
5) It shall not be referred to as a mojito or the mojito or mint mojito or mojitos. It’s just Mojito.
6) While there is, eventually, an undertone of Cuban jazz, you need to first clear your mind and block out all other noise. The sound of raw sugar sprinkled on damp leaves is akin to the opening seconds of Sade’s “Sweetest Taboo.” You should sprinkle, as if you are a vengeful god above a deep jungle—sprinkle until you can only make out small patches of green in the shaker, until you’ve created what you imagine the nether regions of Candlyland must resemble. Now douse it with booze.
7) Not rum. Every attempt to mix Mojito is an attempt to find the intersection between the Old World and the New World. There is a…less refined kind of rum called aguardiente, which translates as fire water. (Ask your friend from Colombia for a hook up.) Depending on the size of the shaker, you want to get four-to-six ounces of it into your Mojito.
8) Don’t google “mojito porn,” you’ll find actual porn, rather than salacious shots of muddled up mint in soda.
9) Cut a lime in half. Squeeze over the shaker. Use your fingernails to claw whatever fruit and rind clings to the skin. The second greatest misconception of Mojito is that it is a gentle, pristine refreshment, but in actuality Mojito is a concoction of violent textures. Pulp. Sugar crystals. Crushed ice. Garden. Its provenance goes back through a dozen revolutions, through hurricanes and Haitian voodoo rituals—fuck all those bars they claim Hemingway drank at—this goes back to the pirate Francis Drake who invented Mojito’s father, the cocktail called El Draque.
10) Drake would consume El Draque in preparation for bloody high seas battle. And here’s a question you need to ask as you shake your Mojito right now: am I a dragon, capable of taking down a dozen Spanish galleons? (If you’re not feeling like a dragon, don’t be afraid to tack starboard and turn this thing into a Mint Julep.)
11) At this point, we must bow to the purists. Crushed ice is non-negotiable. Wrap whole ice cubes in a dirty tea towel and crush with the spine of your grandfather’s Rimbaud anthology. Fill a Collins glass—or a flower vase that looks like a Collins glass—with the crushed ice. Pour in the shaken concoction. Hopefully it will reach the rim. If it doesn’t, slowly add club soda from a tin. (If only to put a hint of the effervescent on the nose.) Go right to the rim. Once you’re at the rim, add a couple more splashes—so it’s almost spilling over. Now add more mints sprigs and stir quickly so it does spill over the edge. Pick up the glass. Put it down. Rub your sweet wet minty palm across your brow and chest. Pour a little bit into your garden, in memory of dead comrades. Close your eyes. Sip at exactly the pace it takes to mix another one. Repeat until all the mint in your garden has been harvested.
12) Save a few handfuls for tomorrow morning’s Moroccan tea.