The secret to this classic rum cocktail lies not only in the recipe but how you muddle the ingredients. We spoke to bartenders about how to perfect the mojito.
One of the most ordered cocktails in the world, the mojito has the ability to transport you to a sun-drenched beach with a single sip. But more often than not, mojitos made at home fall short of those served in bars, so we asked some of the UK's best bartenders for their top tips so you can up your mojito game!
Quick history of the mojito
In 1833, a drink consisting of rum, sugar, lime and mint appeared in the book El Colera en la Habana by Cuban author Ramon de Palma. Called the "El Draquecito”, often associated with Sir Francis Drake, it's clear to see the ancestry of the mojito in this drink. Over time the Draque, as it became known, was refined until it became the mojito that we know and love today.
The classic mojito
A classic mojito is made with rum (traditionally white), sugar, lime, mint, ice and soda water, served in a highball glass. The key with this drink is balance: you want to be able to taste each element, with each working in harmony.
White rum is the order of the day. Julian de Féral of the Gorgeous Group in London advocates a Spanish style of rum (also referred to as Cuban style), which are lighter rums, perfect for mixing in cocktails like the daiquiri and mojito. We recommend Havana Club in our rum review.
If you want to add a little extra zing to your mojito, Julian suggests adding a bar spoon of an overproof number such as Wray and Nephew to give a backbone to the rum element, whilst adding dry grassy notes which complement the mint.
Traditionally a mojito would have been made using crystalline sugar, however the need to dissolve the sugar can lead to an inconsistent drink, never mind the crunchy mess left in the bottom of the glass. Without fail, all of the bartenders I talked to when researching this article advocated the use of sugar syrup for a clean, consistent finish.
As far as the type of sugar used, Cocktail Kate from Furnivals Well in Liverpool always pairs the blanco white rums with a white sugar cane syrup whereas Julian opts for an unrefined or golden sugar. Both agreed that you should stay away from heavier sugars when you're using a light style of rum as they're likely to overpower and turn your mojito a murky brown colour.
We suggest making a 1:1 syrup (equal volumes of water and sugar, stirred over a gentle heat until dissolved) as it makes your mojito ratio simpler: 1:1:2 - lime : sugar syrup : rum.
Fresh pressed lime juice is just as good as adding lime wedges and muddling. In fact, it's important not to over-muddle any citrus fruit or green leaves (so this goes for the mint too) as you'll release bitter notes. It's also easier for consistency, as Sipheng You from London bar PimpSheui explains: "I prefer to mix the drink with freshly squeezed lime juice rather than muddled lime wedges as it allows more control over the amount of juice in the drink and will leave more room in the glass for the other ingredients."
If you want to add a couple of lime wedges for aesthetics though, do go ahead, just squeeze them beforehand and think more of a gentle press than a strong 'muddle'.
The interesting thing about mint is that most of its taste is olfactory, meaning that the taste actually comes from the smell. Don't believe me? Hold your nose and eat some mint chocolate. You'll get very few mint notes until you release your nose!
Therefore your aim is to release the aromatic oils from the mint to flavour your drink. You want to avoid heavy-handed muddling, which grinds the mint into a pesto-like consistency, as you'll actually end up releasing bitter chlorophyll notes from the leaves which are unpleasant. You also want to avoid breaking up the mint into small pieces as they will block up your straw. Less is more - think a gentle press (as with the limes).
Cocktail Kate reveals one of her secrets for using mint: "A great trick is to place the leaves in the palm of your hand and slap them. This awakens the flavours, and will give your drink that instant ‘zippy’ flavour you dream of from a mojito."
You'll also be agitating the mint when you churn your drink (see the section below on constructing your drink), which will help the mint flavour/aroma to come alive too.
And don't forget the crowning glory of the mojito: another mint sprig. Slap this sprig between your hands too, and position it right next to the straw so that every sip will be accompanied with the aroma from the mint, which will accentuate the taste.
As mojitos are served on crushed ice, you'll get dilution as you churn the drink. Often by this point there's little room for soda and I'd argue a splash isn't going to make any noticable difference. It'll also go flat almost immediately. However, if you do have space and prefer your mojito with soda, make sure it doesn't include artificial sweeteners or flavourings, and don't add too much or you'll drown the rum.
Crushed ice is the order of the day. It needs to come straight from the freezer or be crushed just before you make the drink. You also want to buy fresh ice. Crushed ice has a much larger surface area than cubed, and any lingering flavours the ice may have picked up from the food in your freezer will come through strongly and won't be pleasant!
6-8 mint leaves
25ml sugar syrup (1:1)
25ml lime juice
Slap the mint and add to the bottom of the glass. Fill with crushed ice. Add the sugar syrup, lime juice and rum. Take a bar spoon with a flat bottom and use the disc to churn the mixture. Add more ice and churn again. You're looking for a frosting on the outside of the glass so that you know the mix is super cold. Cap with more ice so that the glass is full and the ice glistens on top. Add soda if you want to/if there's room at this point. Take your mint sprig and clap it between your hands to release the oils, then place next to a straw in the glass.
Twists on the classic mojito
Bitters: JJ Goodman from the London Cocktail Clubs recommends the addition of Angostura bitters to the top of the drink. Why? "A) for the aroma, and b) because I love how it lightly infuses with the bottom liquid in the drink," he explains.
Berries: Cocktail Kate is a fan of adding a few berries to the glass before the mint (you'll want to muddle these before you add the mint). Raspberries, blackberries and strawberries work well, and you can also substitute half of the sugar syrup for a fruit liqueur in these cases to further amplify the fruity flavours.
Elderflower: Substitute the sugar syrup for elderflower cordial for a lighter, more fragrant mojito.
More mojito recipes
How do you make your mojito? We’d love to hear your tricks and techniques…