Some cocktails defy historicizing; they are products of long evolutions shrouded in circumstance and myth. The Mojito, for all its fame, is one of these—a tedious but simple cocktail with a powerfully addictive palate.
Sources allege two major origin stories for the Mojito. One associates it with famed English pirate/profiteer Francis Drake and his failed (or stalled, depending on how you read it) siege of Havana. Allegedly, Drake’s crew was anchored off the shore of the Caribbean’s gold-laden Queen City when they fell sick and benefited from a mixed drink panacea from the shore—a panacea not unlike the original Caipirinha, with mint, sugar, lime, and local aguardiente. Regardless of the drink, Drake sailed away without the horde of Spanish gold.
The other story connects the Mojito to ‘native cane farmers’—read, “slaves”—who mixed cane juice, mint, and lime with poor quality rum/aquardiente to improve its flavors and thereby make getting drunk more palatable. Whichever story you chose to follow, the drink has made a long journey from its apocryphal origins to the iconic drink of mint sprigs and crushed ice and soda water.