The Best Mojitos North Of Havana

These days I am most often mistaken for a certain jolly fellow we all know that lives a bit further north.

To people who ask if I mind this reference in public, I usually reply, "One of my friends from high school looks a bit like Charles Manson and my son, in his younger days, was once told he looked like Paul Bernardo. So taking that into consideration, I don’t mind being confused with a celebrity who is generally loved all around the world.”

But before my hair and beard was quite this long, whenever I traveled to Jamaica or Cuba I was most often called “Hemmingway”.

That Ernest Hemmingway is one of my favourite writers was a happy coincidence although I was fully aware the reference had everything to do with my appearance and nothing to do with my writing skills.

I was also not naive enough to know that the staff of the resorts we stayed at would use tactics such as this in the hopes of procuring generous tips.

But when the recognition often also came from fellow travelers and other tourists with no ulterior motives, I could not help but feel that perhaps there might have been some legitimate familiarity in my appearance.

Hemmingway, as you may know, spent over 30 years writing in Cuba prior to his departure shortly after the 1959 revolution.

Two of Hemmingway’s favourite drinks were the daiquiri and the mojito and his two favourite watering holes were La Bodeguita and El Foridata in Havana, Cuba.

When we first visited Cuba in 2006 I was determined to try both.

There are so many variations of the daiquiri it is difficult to find one that you don’t like, but my first experience with the mojito (which is really just a “mint daiquiri”) was less favourable. I found the mojito very bland and unexciting.

Eventually, however, I began to enjoy the mojito and have since decided it is a very refreshing drink on a hot day. Unlike the daiquiri which is much sweeter, the tart flavour of the lemon in the mojito offset with just the right amount of sugar and with a hint of mint, is a much nicer thirst quencher.

A friend of mine once challenged me on this saying, “So - just how many times do you have to try a drink you don’t like before you start to enjoy it?”

I didn’t really have an answer for him and it occurred to me then that perhaps if I put the same kind of energy into liking asparagus as I did the mojito, I might learn to also enjoy asparagus. Somehow, however, I don’t think that’s going to happen.

But I do enjoy mojitos now. So much so that I have a garden filled with healthy mint plants that I can prepare a mojito at any time on a moment’s notice during the summer when the day’s chores have been completed and it’s time to put my feet up, relax and enjoy a fine Cuban cigar.

I have yet to find an acceptable prepared mojito that is available at the LCBO and these are likely what you will be served in a bar in Canada if you can even find one that offers the mojito.

There is an art form to preparing a good mojito and even many skilled bartenders in Cuba seem to lack either the expertise or the desire to master it. At some of the larger resorts in Cuba in  particular, a bartender will rush through creating a mojito simply to get to the next tip as quickly as possible.

At a smaller resort or a watering hole off the resort however, you are more likely to find a bartender that takes special pride in his or her creation of a good mojito.

One mojito will inevitably lead to another and although they are not difficult to make, stopping to make a second mojito interrupts our quiet time. So I have learned to make a perfect pitcher of mojitos so that when we hear that familiar slurping of air through the straw as the drink comes to an end, a second pour is readily at hand.

Here is the recipe that will allow you to also make “The Best Mojito North Of Havana” to enjoy on a hot summer day.

Jim’s Pitcher of Mojitos

(Best Mojitos north of Havana)

Time: 5 min.

Serves: 4

Stuff Required:

  • 1 tbsp sugar

  • 4 large mint leaves (or equivalent)

  • 3 tbsp Lemon Juice

  • ½ cup of rum*

  • 3 cups of club soda

  • 4 sprigs of small mint leaves

  • Ice

Do This:

  1. Place sugar in the bottom of a measuring cup.

  2. Add mint leaves and lemon juice.

  3. Crush mint with a muddler.

  4. Stir to dissolve the sugar.

  5. Transfer to a glass pitcher.

  6. Pour ½ cup of rum into the measuring cup and transfer to pitcher. (this will pick up the last of any undissolved sugar.)

  7. Pour 3 cups of club soda into the pitcher.

  8. Gently stir with a long spoon.

  9. Add a few ice cubes to help keep cold.

To Serve:

  1. Place a sprig of mint into your mojito glass.

  2. Crush ice and place in the glass.

  3. Pour your mojito mix to fill and add a straw to serve.

* I prefer Havana Club rum but any rum will do. However I refuse to make my mojitos with Bacardi Rum. Although the Bacardi family was originally from Cuba, they left following the revolution and are now headquartered in Bermuda. In the 1960s, the head of Bacardi offered to finance a CIA terrorist plot to pay the Mafia to assassinate Fidel & Raul Castro and Che Guevera. They are heavily involved in creating the terms of the US embargo against Cuba and have used unfair business practices with the brand name “Havana Club” which is legally owned by Cuba.

My mojito in La Bodeguita, My daiquiri in El Floridita." - Ernest Hemmingway



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