Delicious and refreshing, the mojito is a perfect summer cocktail. Its fresh ingredients are what make it special (and the bane of a few bartenders). Though some bars have tried to simplify the process with sour mix and pre-muddled mint to meet demand, many others are careful to use fresh juices, mint, and syrups to make the cocktail the old fashioned way.

THE MOJITO'S ORIGINS

According to Ravi DeRossi, a long-time New York bartender and author of Cuban Cocktails, the mojito is thought to have arisen as a variation of an El Draque, a cocktail whose origin is credited to British admiral Sir Francis Drake during his tenure in Cuba in the late 1500s. In those days, according to Eater, "the drink combined mint and lime to make the flavors of crude sugar cane spirits, like aguardiente, more palatable."

At the time, the rum distillation process was still rather rudimentary, so anything made in a still would have contained high concentrations of fusel oils and other undesirable compounds. The drink may have been invented (intentionally or not) as a medicinal tonic for Drake’s sailors: mint can aid nausea, lime juice would've fought off scurvy, sugarcane juice helped with flavor, and rum added, well, all that rum has to offer.

As the story goes, this drink trend spread to Cuban farm workers. From there, it made its way to the bars in Havana and other Cuban cities. At some point (at least in the later-half of the 1800s), as Esquire's David Wondrich writes, bartenders began making it with ice and soda water (which wouldn't have been common in rural areas in those days), and the Mojito was born.

Another mystery is its name’s origin. Mojito translates to “little spell,” and some hypothesize the drink was so named because it is almost magical. Others, as Eater reports, say the name is a derivation or play on mojo, a tangy citrus sauce. Though the naming intentions are lost to history, the drink itself is still going strong.

Nowadays you can find dozens if not hundreds of variations on the mojito. Most of them involve fruit or some other plant in addition to the mint, and the recipe listed below is for a simple, classic mojito.

HIT THE LAB

Mojito
Adapted from Dave Wondrich’s Esquire recipe.

1/2 ounce lime juice
1/2 ounce rich simple syrup (or 2 teaspoons sugarcane juice)
3 mint leaves
2 ounces white rum
Club soda, to top

In a tall glass, combine simple syrup and lime juice. Add the mint leaves, and muddle lightly against the side of the glass. Fill glass two-thirds full of ice, and add rum. Top with seltzer water or club soda. Garnish with the lime shell and a stirring rod.