Thirsty Thursday

Classic Cuban Mojito is light and refreshingly sweet

Aline Peres Martins | Staff Writer

The Cuban Mojito can be made in a variety of ways, but the traditional version which uses six to seven ingredients is the one to stick to.

HAVANA — The bar at El Floridita, Ernest Hemingway’s preferred Havana hangout spot, is almost always bustling. Located in the old part of the city — “Habana Vieja” in Spanish — it is considered “la cuña del daiquiri” — the cradle of the daiquiri. From morning till night, the bartenders can be seen making five or six daiquiris at a time. Yet as soon he stepped away from the bar, Abel Oliva, who has been bartending at El Floridita for over 10 years, admitted that the daiquiri is certainly not Cuba’s signature drink.

That moniker goes to the mojito.

The mojito embodies the spirit of Cuba. Every night, along el Malecón, Havana’s surrounding sea wall, people sit in bars drinking them. Every established bartender in Havana knows the recipe by heart. It’s simple — sugar, club soda, mint, lemon or lime juice, and rum. The execution is the tricky part.

At El Floridita, Abel said the secret to their mojitos is a healthy dose of Havana Club Añejo 3 Añosrum rum — 45 milliliters, to be exact — and a dash of angostura bitters. White rum, he said, is essential. Any rum aged longer than three years overpowers the rest of the notes in the cocktail. Most bars in Havana have figured that part out. But what they don’t usually add is the bitters. Mojitos in Cuba are cheap — roughly $3 dollars. Bitters, on the other hand are not, ringing in at about $21 dollars a bottle. So many bartenders just don’t see the point.

Yet Oliva said El Floridita’s reputation as one of the best bars in town, combined with the secret addition of a dash of bitters, gives them the freedom to charge double the average price. Given that a bottle of bitter is enough for over 100 mojitos, the benefits clearly outweigh the costs.

And while he said behind the bar he is a stickler for the proper mojito, at home, in a pinch, it is okay to go the cheapest route — bust out whatever rum is in the cabinet, mix it with some sprite and mint, and call it a day.

Taking Oliva’s advice, I decided to try three variations of the Mojito. Is it worth it to go all out and make the fancy “El Floridita” mojito with added bitters, or is it just fine to go with sprite and Bacardi?

The verdict — neither. Opt, instead, for the traditional Cuban mojito with Havana Club Añejo 3 Años rum, sugar, club soda, mint and lemon juice.

Bacardi mixed with mint and Sprite was surprisingly not bad, but it was lacking the bright flavor of the other two varieties. Sprite is also overpoweringly sweet for a proper mojito.

The version with added bitters was good, but bitters are too aromatic for a mojito. It distorts the color, making the drink taste and look darker.

For the type of mojito you would drink on a beach in the Caribbean, the original recipe is the way to go — the light, perfectly sweet and refreshing mojito.

Recipe:

  • 45 ml white rum (Havana Club Añejo 3 Años is ideal)
  • One teaspoon of granulated sugar
  • 45 ml club soda
  • A splash of lemon or lime juice
  • Mint to taste (my personal preference is three to four leaves)
  • Ice
  • If you’re feeling fancy, add a dash of bitters.

Place mint and sugar to the bottom of a glass, add ice and crush to release mint flavor. Add rum, club soda and lime juice. Stir.

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