Mojito's and a Cuban Bartender
The sweltering humidity has been hanging like a wet blanket for the better part of a week. The restaurants air conditioning unit is cranking out the cool air, but the temperature behind the bar is still repressive, but at least I know the kitchen guys have it worse. I don't envy them one bit. The bar is packed with guests and cold drinks are the primary request, be it a cold bottle of Corona or a frosty martini. But for me there are only a few drinks that can provide relief from the scorching heat and humidity. The Mojito is one of those drinks and when a Cuban bartender is sitting at your bar and orders one, it better be a good one.
Sometimes life throws you a challenge that you can only hope for. In this case it was to make a simple Mojito, now how hard could that be? Well, if you have a bartender from Cuba ordering one, it seems to add a little pressure, but in a good way.
Because of the heat a couple of ladies were talk about good drinks to take the edge off. While they reminisced about a trip to Mexico, the obvious popped up, a Margarita. So while I was making one, another person was trying to remember the name of a mint drink, and I blurted out the Mojito. The gentleman sitting beside the ladies spoke up and asked if I could make a Mojito and I replied yes. He then asked if we had fresh mint, and I said yes. Then the big question came up; what type of rum do you have? I replied I would only use Havana Club Blanco for a Mojito. With a big smile he said that after he was done his wine, and dinner, he would like a to have one. But first he need a big glass of water because he wanted to cleanse his palette before par-taking in the cocktail.
During the conversation we started to talk about the Mojito and how they (he) made them in Cuba. He had bartended for a while and his friend worked at the renowned La Floridita, where Earnest Hemingway sipped a drink or two. The gauntlet had been dropped and a friendly challenge was on. Could I make a good Mojito.
With the healthy and fun conversation going on, the number of Mojito's being ordered started to grow. It seemed the conditions were right for the drink; heat, humidity and good company. I started off with about six leaves of mint, no stems, and added a splash of simple syrup and the juice of half a lime. I gently muddled the leaves, not shredding them, to get the oils out without making a paste. Then I reached for the rum and it was a new bottle.
I have read enough about Cuban rum and traditions to know that you should pour a few drops on the floor first, for good luck, whenever you open a bottle of rum. I initially forgot, and while I poured the rum into the glass, I realized this, and decided that to make a real Mojito, I should follow tradition. I looked at my Cuban guest and checked to make sure it was truly traditional to pour a small amount of rum and the floor and a good sized smile crossed my Cuban friends face when I did so. He stated that he was impressed that I knew that. So a few drops hit the floor for good luck.
After the muddling, the glass was packed with ice and topped with club soda. As I slid the drink across the bar, the pressure was on. After the first sip I knew I had hit the mark because of the big smile. The verdict was that it was great. The only comment was that it wasn't strong enough. I was using a standard pour of 1.5 oz, so the next time I made it a double and that definitely hit the mark. So for the rest of the night I made Mojito's until all of my mint was gone.
The fun part about bartending is that sometimes the reward is more than monetary. In this case I received a great compliment from a peer about the quality of the drinks I made, and the fact that I followed tradition made the drink even better. Also, I gave a person a taste of home. On days like that I wish I could cross the bar and sip a few Mojito's.