Words by: Simon Difford
The exact origins of the Mojito and its name are lost in the mists of time. Some trace it back to 1586 and a medicinal drink named after Sir Francis Drake.
Francis Drake was one of a band of privateers sponsored by England's Queen Elizabeth I to plunder Spanish cities in the New World and seize their riches. In 1586 he dropped anchor off the Cuban shore with a cargo of Spanish treasure which was already valued at twice the Queen's annual income. King Philip II of Spain had warned his governor in Cuba of Drake's approach, and of his intentions to take the Aztec gold stored in the city's royal treasury. Havana was well-prepared. But everyone was amazed when, after several days of waiting, Captain Drake sailed away from the richest port in the West Indies after firing only a few shots.
Drake left Havana and its gold intact, but his visit was a major event, something perhaps worthy of naming a drink after. Known as the Draque, Drak or Drac this consisted of aguardiente (a crude cane spirit that was the forerunner of rum), sugar, lime and mint.
Some say the drink was not originally Cuban and it was actually invented upon board Drake's ship which carried mint to mix with cane spirit, sugar and lime to make a drink to relieve fever and colds. What is for certain is that the Draque was drunk for its perceived medicinal value. During one of the worst cholera epidemics ever to hit Havana, the author Ramon de Paula wrote, "Every day at eleven o' clock I consume a little Drake made from aguardiente (local cane spirit) and I am doing very well."
The drink stayed that way until the mid 1800s. Then, at the same time as Don Facundo Bacardi Massó was establishing the Bacardi Company, the original recipe for the Draque changed. As Frederick Villoch described in 1940 '...when aguardiente was replaced with rum, the Drake was to be called a Mojito.'
However, some maintain the Mojito was invented after Americans visiting Cuba's thriving bar culture between the wars, and especially during Prohibition, introduced the locals to the Mint Julep.
The origins of the name 'Mojito' are equally misty. Some say it comes from 'mojar', a Spanish verb suggesting wetness. Others claim it comes from the African word 'mojo', meaning to place a little spell. Either way, Cuba's oldest cocktail is superbly refreshing and is one of the world's best-selling cocktails.
Bodeguita del Medio bar in Havana is by urban myth credited with making the first Mojito and this is also apparently where Ernest Hemingway went for his. Here a framed hand-written note, personally written and signed by Hemmingway reads, "My Mojito in La Bodeguita My Daiquiri in El Floridita." However, none of his books mention either the Mojito or La Bodeguita, nor does any letter or other piece of writing attributed to Hemmingway.