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Mojito Cocktail History

Words by Simon Difford

While the exact origins of the Mojito cocktail and its name are lost in 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, already with a cargo of Spanish treasure valued at twice the Queen's annual income but he was after even more.

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. That's the theory behind the Draque (Drake, Drak, or Drac), a drink consisting of aguardiente de caña (a crude cane spirit that was the forerunner of rum), sugar, lime and mint.

Some say the Draque 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. In 1833, during one of the worst cholera epidemics ever to hit Havana, the author Ramón de Paula wrote, "Every day at eleven o'clock I consume a little Drake made from aguardiente and I am doing very well."

The drink stayed that way until the mid-1800s. Then, at the same time when 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." Bacardi may be behind the swapping out of the traditional aguardiente in the Draque to create the Mojito. The brand certainly promoted the cocktail in its early advertising.

However, some maintain Americans visiting Cuba's thriving bar culture between the wars, and especially during Prohibition, introduced the locals to the Mint Julep and it was this that led to the Mojito to be invented.

Urban myth credits Bodeguita del Medio bar in Havana with making the first Mojito and this is also apparently where Ernest Hemingway went for his, evidenced by a framed hand-written note written and signed by Hemingway hanging in the bar. It 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 Hemingway.

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The origins of the name 'Mojito' are equally misty. Some say it comes from 'mojar', a Spanish verb suggesting wetness. Others, who claim the cocktail was created by slaves brought to Cuba to labour in its sugarcane fields, say it comes from the African word 'mojo', meaning to place a little spell due to the drink's perceived medicinal value.

Earliest published recipes

The first known recipe for the Mojito, appears under the name "Mojo Criollo" in the 1927 El Arte De Hacer un Cocktail y Algo Más. Written in Spanish, this book was published in Cuba by the brewing company, Cervecera International.

The cocktail then appears as "Mojo de Ron" in Juan A. Lasa's Libro de Cocktail – The Cocktail Book which, as the due language name suggests, has recipes in Spanish followed by the same recipes in English.

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The cocktail appears in yet another book from the period, the 1931 Cuban Cookery – gastronomic secrets of the tropics with an appendix on Cuban drinks, as a "Rum Cocktail (Cuban mojo)".

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The Mojito first appears under the name we recognise today in Sloppy Joe's Bar Season 1931-32 souvenir menu. Interestingly the cocktail is listed in both the "Bacardi Drinks" rum section and the "Gordon Dry Gin Cocktails" section with the appropriate spirit in each recipe. The gin version also appears in the 1931 Cuban Cookery above. Hence, Mojito was a style of cocktail that could be based on various spirits, not just rum.

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