Life is made of moments and experiences remembered, like clinking cheers and conversations with loved ones over a relaxing drink like a mojito cocktail. The minty-fresh mojito is a classic Cuban cocktail that is as rich in its history as it is refreshing to sip, making it a popular drink of choice in warm weather. Not to worry if making the journey to Cuba isn’t on your upcoming travel agenda. Mojito ingredients such as white rum, fresh muddled mint leaves, sugar or simple syrup and fresh lime juice will instantly transport you to the tropics, no plane or boat necessary. Excellent for enjoying during al fresco entertaining or simply anytime a craving for an ice-cold, revitalizing beverage hits – this Cuban-born cocktail is sure to be a must-have drink for sipping all summer long.

What's in a Mojito Cocktail

White rum is typically the alcohol in a mojito, along with four other simple ingredients. Traditionally served over ice in a highball glass, the other mojito ingredients include fresh lime, fresh mint leaves (typically muddled in the glass), club soda or sparkling water, sugar or simple syrup (prepared or homemade) and plenty of ice.

For those that may be wondering how much alcohol is in a mojito, the answer is usually a little more than one shot of white rum. A U.S. standard drink contains about 0.6 fluid ounces or 14 grams of pure alcohol. This roughly translates to each standard bar serving of a 6-ounce mojito cocktail containing 13.3 percent alcohol.

“If you walk into any Old Havana bar and hold up two fingers without comment, the odds are favorable you’ll get two mojitos in return,” writes Wayne Curtis in his book "And a Bottle of Rum," detailing the history of the liquor. The mojito is also the national cocktail of Cuba, with its birthplace in Havana, the capital.

Liquor Lore of the Cuban Classic

The mojito has a storied history dating back to its birth in Havana, Cuba, over 500 years ago. The mojito cocktail is linked to two common stories detailing its initial creation and eventual evolution into what modern mojito drinkers sip on at bars and restaurants today.

In the first version of the mojito’s history, the story involves the drink evolving from a 16th-century Cuban cure-all concoction believed to have been created as a medicinal elixir. The alternate version of the cocktail’s beginnings is that the mojito was created in a Havana restaurant and became famous after the mojito was beloved by iconic writer Ernest Hemingway.

The medicinal version of the story traces the origins of the mojito way back to the 1500s when English Naval Captain Sir Francis Drake traveled to Havana with the intent to sack the city of its gold. Drake was unsuccessful in this mission, but the mojito allegedly evolved from an elixir called the “El Draque.” This was a primitive medicinal concoction created to treat and cure diseases such as scurvy and dysentery among the men in Drake’s crew. Attributed to have been named after Drake himself, the “El Draque” cocktail combined aguardiente de cana, mint leaves and the juices from sugar cane and limes as the ingredients for a medicinal tonic.

Additionally, there are other accounts linking the mojito to medicinal elixir tales of blue-collar workers and slaves of Cuba in the 1800s. These laborers would gather accessible ingredients such as citrus, mint and sugarcane juice, also known as guarapo, to tame the harsh taste of the cheap homemade distillate alcohol.

In the Hemingway version, the restaurant-bar La Bodeguita del Medio in Old Havana claims to be the birthplace of the mojito cocktail as it is currently known. Folklore associates the restaurant bar with Ernest Hemingway’s praise of its version of the cocktail. Hemingway is said to have been a fan of the mojito when he frequented the bar. According to legend, Hemingway wrote "Mi mojito en La Bodeguita, mi daiquirí en El Floridita" (My mojito in La Bodeguita, my daiquiri in El Floridita) on the Old Havana bar's wall. Hemingway supposedly sipped this version of the mojito with Champagne, rather than soda water.

Coming to America Shaken Not Stirred

When modern Latin cuisine became a major culinary trend in the late ’80s and early ’90s, so did cocktails with a Caribbean vibe, like the mojito. These types of drinks, evoking the feel and taste reminiscent of hot nights and balmy beaches, were a natural complement to this type of cuisine. In cities with high populations of Latinos and acclaimed culinary scenes, such as New York, Miami and Los Angeles, the mojito became an in-demand and popular drink at urban bars.

Modern versions of the mojito rose again in popularity in the United States when the 2002 film "James Bond: Die Another Day" featured the Cuban cocktail. In a scene set in Havana, Pierce Brosnan, as Bond, sipped a mojito at an outdoor bar. Halle Berry's character emerged from a nearby pool, walking up to Brosnan at the bar who then said to her: "Mojito? You should try it." From that point on, bars across the country began receiving requests for the somewhat labor-intensive drink, sending bartenders scrambling to muddle fresh mint and stock up on limes.

Muddling Mint Is Key

In fact, it is this freshly muddled mint, that while laborious, gives the classic cocktail its kick. And, if the muddling process is executed in anything less than perfect fashion, it can make for an undrinkable mojito."The muddled mint gives the drink its olfactory kick," explains Drew Breen, bar manager at Jianna restaurant in Greenville, South Carolina, during our interview. "It's an essential part of the drink!" Or, adapt it for a larger quantity to serve in a pitcher while entertaining a group.

The right way to muddle mint begins by choosing the right tool. Opt for a muddler without teeth on the end. While muddlers with teeth are good for muddling the juice and oils from fruit, they can cause shredding of mint leaves or other herbs. Muddlers without teeth are the choice to use when making mojitos, where mint leaves are the key ingredient.

Next, select a sturdy mixing or pint glass, or a cocktail shaker. Place mint leaves in the bottom of the glass. Then, place the muddler in the glass, lightly press down on the mint leaves with the muddler and twist gently a few times. When done, it should smell fresh and minty.

Double Strain for a Grit-Free Mojito

For a mojito that won’t leave behind a gritty, grassy sensation after each sip, it’s best to double strain the cocktail. Double straining involves the use of a standard cocktail strainer along with a fine-mesh strainer. This way, the drink is strained twice to catch any small bits of mint leaves, sugar clumps or lime fruit juice.

To double strain, place a regular strainer in or on the metal cocktail shaker. Next, hold a fine-mesh strainer by its handle over the highball or cocktail serving glass. Pour the mojito mixture through both strainers. When the mojito eventually finds its way to the glass, the fine-mesh strainer will have ideally caught any remaining small particles that may have made it through the first strainer.

Jianna Mojito Recipe

This recipe from Drew Breen of Jianna Restaurant in Greenville, South Carolina, is a classy version of the cocktail. It’s excellent for sipping during steamy Southern nights, but it also works perfectly anytime or anywhere when a craving for a thirst-quenching, single-serve mojito hits, as it’s relatively quick and easy to prepare.

Total Time: 10 minutes | Prep Time: 5 minutes | Serves: 1

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces light or white rum
  • 1 ounce fresh lime juice
  • 3/4 ounce pre-made simple syrup
  • 5 or 6 leaves of fresh mint, lightly muddled
  • Soda water or club soda
  • Fresh mint sprig for garnish
  • Slice of lime for garnish
  • Ice

Directions:

  • Lightly muddle the fresh mint.
  • Combine light or white rum, simple syrup and lime juice.
  • Add to a cocktail shaker with ice.
  • Shake well in cocktail shaker.
  • Double strain using a regular strainer and a fine-mesh strainer and serve over ice in a highball glass.
  • Top off glass with a splash of club soda or sparkling water.
  • Garnish with a sprig of mint and slice of lime.
  • Sip and enjoy.

Simple Syrup

If finding store-bought simple syrup isn’t possible, making a homemade version is, as its name suggests, simple to do. Two ingredients, sugar and water, combine over heat to create the sweet syrup. If desired, infuse with herbs such as rosemary or thyme to elevate the cocktail to another level of taste.

Total Time: 30 minutes | Prep Time: 1 minutes | Serves: 16

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup water

Directions:

  • In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and water.
  • Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar has fully dissolved.
  • Allow to cool.
  • Add to mojito recipe.

Party Pitcher Mojitos

Summer entertaining gets a whole lot easier and sweeter when you take the time to plan and prepare a party-ready pitcher (or a few pitchers) of classic mojitos with pure cane sugar, rather than using simple syrup. These minty-fresh, citrus-sweet mojitos hit the spot in steamy weather for a refreshing, ice-cold fix of the Cuban classic cocktail.

Total Time: 20 minutes | Prep Time: 15 minutes | Serves: 4 to 6

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 36 leaves fresh mint, or to taste
  • 3 limes, quartered
  • 32 ounces club soda or soda water
  • 1 cup white rum
  • Ice
  • Sliced limes for garnish
  • Fresh mint sprigs for garnish

Directions:

  • Muddle sugar and mint leaves together in a pitcher until leaves are well-broken down.
  • Add limes and muddle until limes are juiced.
  • Stir white rum into sugar, mint and lime mixture.
  • Add club soda and stir until sugar is completely dissolved.
  • Add ice to individual glasses.
  • Garnish each glass with a spring of fresh mint and slice of lime.
  • Pour into each glass, serve and enjoy.

Next time a classic cocktail craving hits, especially during steamy summer months, opt for an icy, revitalizing, refreshing mojito. Enjoyed indoors or out, the minty, zesty mojito will evoke the relaxed vibe of warm weather and sunshine. No wonder it’s so popular in Cuba and beyond!

About the Author

Crystal Fenton

writer