Among the greatest gifts ever bestowed upon humankind are the different seasons of the year. And for dedicated liquor nerds, there’s no more magical time than summer.
That’s not to disparage the other three. What would spring be without French 75s on a café terrace in the Montorgueil district of Paris? The highlight of fall is Halloween, because that’s a time for watching Dawn of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead, and every episode of The Walking Dead with a mini-Wunderbar in one hand and a Zombie in the other.
As for winter, thank Buddha, Vishnu, and Santa Claus for the holiday season. The entire month of December is a green light to drink daily—especially on the birthday of baby Jesus. Think heavy and strong, with a rum and eggnog or Hot Toddy to warm you up when the weather outside is more frightful than the Christmastime behaviour of your in-laws.
But back to summer. There’s no shortage of things to love, starting with the fact business-casual means flip-flops, camouflage cargo shorts, and a Gun Club Fire of Love T-shirt. Because summer is often blazing hot, it’s like being on vacation somewhere exotic seven days a week. And when on vacation self-respecting liquor nerds drink from noon until midnight, keeping a pleasant glow as the goal, rather than getting too gooned to fire up the barbecue.
How does one manage such a delicate balancing act? Going light, bright, and simple is the key. That’s shorthand for quick and easy—which is to say there’s no need to be making cedar bitters from scratch after a foraging trip to Stanley Park, or hauling out the Ardbeg and sweet vermouth for a incapacitatingly heavy Blood and Sand.
A serious contender for all-time king of summer cocktails is the Mojito, which is as idiotically easy to execute as it is refreshing. As a bonus, Cuba’s greatest gift to the world this side of cigars gives you an excuse to get outside and raid your garden’s mint patch. Living in a condo, or entirely lacking a green thumb? Then load up at the next farmer’s market—making sure to keep socially distanced.
The Mojito is a great excuse to invest in a muddler, which will quickly become your best friend—especially if you’ve driven yourself crazy trying to crush mint with the back of a spoon like the bartenders do at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba.
Traditionalists will argue there’s only one way to make a proper Mojito, and that’s by combining crushed mint and cane sugar with white rum, fresh lime, and soda water. But rules are sometimes made to be ignored, which means there’s nothing wrong with reaching for a can of Sanpellegrino Limonata for an extra-tart kick. As for the rum, umm, Havana Club 3 Años, please. Because sometimes rules are made to be followed.
The Mojito was one of Ernest Hemingway’s two favourite drinks when he was hunkered down in Havana, often glued to a barstool at La Bodeguita del Medio. At his other home in Cuba—La Floridita—the Daiquiri was tops on his liquid-lunch menu. That’s a cocktail that is also completely easy to make when you’ve got fresh lime, rum, and sugar. Shake and pour, and it’s like you’re watching the ’57 Chevrolets roll by on the Malecon.
Sometimes location is everything in our perception of what a great summer drink is. Transport yourself to hot and fabulously humid Brazil with a Caipirinha, with refreshing and simple again as the buzzwords. (Mash a lime and sugar in a shaker, add one-and-a-half ounces of cachaça and crushed ice, and then empty into a glass.)
Imagine you’re in the Caribbean with a vibrantly coloured Yellow Bird (Bacardi white rum, Galliano, Triple Sec, and fresh lime). Or plant yourself in the middle of Peru (and get over your oh-so-North-American fear of raw egg whites) with a Pisco Sour (lemon juice, simple syrup, egg white, and Campo de Encanto pisco, shaken with ice cubes, strained into a glass, and finished with a dash of Angostura bitters).
You’ll note that many of the above cocktails contain white rum (or what tastes like a first or second cousin) as a main ingredient. There’s a reason for that: save the Gosling Black Seal rum for the Dark ’n’ Stormy days of November. This is summer. You’ve got to keep things light and bright.
With sincerest apologies to both Papa Hemingway and the staff of La Bodeguita del Medio, here’s a tweaked Mojito recipe:
2 tsp white sugar
4 mint sprigs
1 oz fresh lime juice
1.5 oz Havana Club 3 Años
3.5 oz Sanpellegrino Limonata
Mix sugar with lime at the bottom of a cylindrical glass. Add 3 mint sprigs and muddle. (Be gentle; you don’t want a paste.) Add rum, Limonata, and cracked ice, and garnish with a mint sprig. g
Mike Usinger is not a professional bartender. He does, however, spend most of his waking hours sitting on barstools.