Celebrate the season with a summer cocktail

Brian Rung

        Tuesday June 20, will mark the official beginning of summer. Will you be ready?
    I'm not sure exactly where I will be on the first day of summer, but I know what I will be drinking. I almost always have either my first Mojito and/or my first Daiquiri of the year on the first day of summer, and why not?
    I can't think of a better way to kick off my favorite season than with the Cuban classics. This year, in addition to the Daiquiri, I will be putting a spin on one of the classics and ringing in the summer with a Strawberry Mojito.
    Before we start taking liberties with a classic cocktail, note that you should always taste the original recipe first. This goes for all cocktails, not just the Mojito.
    In many cases you will find that you prefer the original recipe over the fancy “restaurant version” of the recipe.
    Just because a big chain restaurant offers a blueberry banana vanilla peppermint Daiquiri served in a pineapple with an upside down bottle of beer stuffed inside doesn't mean that you have to order it.
    I applaud the creativity, but make it a point to try the original recipe and you will find that less is more in the cocktail world.
    Original recipes almost always win for many reasons, primarily because the classics would not have survived if the original version of the cocktail was not a great recipe in the first place.
    Another reason that I believe the classics have endured is that the original recipes typically have fewer ingredients providing less opportunity for flavor notes to clash.
    Many of the classics consist of only three ingredients: spirit base, something sour and something sweet.  
    If you are a fan of sweet, refreshing cocktails, you owe it to yourself to try the Mojito and the Daiquiri in their original form. Both are Cuban heritage cocktails, and both are made from light rum, sugar and lime juice.
    The Mojito takes a different turn into a dramatically different territory when fresh mint and soda water are added. Both recipes continue to evolve, but they started their refreshing lives in hot, humid Havana with only a few simple ingredients.
    To make a Mojito, you are going to need light rum, limes and simple syrup.  If you have those three ingredients you may as well make an original Cuban Daiquiri.  
    No, this Daiquiri is not frozen or colorful. It is however my favorite version of the Daiquiri and one of my all-time favorite cocktails.
    To make the original Daiquiri:
    Fill shaker with ice.
    Add 2 oz light run.
    Add 1 oz fresh lime juice.
    Add 1 oz simple syrup.
    Shake and strain into cocktail glass.
    Garnish with lime.
    The original Daiquiri is simple to make and is an ideal first cocktail for someone new to mixology, but a proper Mojito is a bit more involved.
    First, you are going to need a muddler. Wood, plastic or metal, it comes down to personal preference and as long as it does the job, it doesn't make a difference which muddler you choose. The Mojito will be built in the glass, so use a tall glass.  
    When muddling your ingredients, there is a fine line between too much and not enough. If muddled too hard, there is a chance that a bitter flavor will be released from the pulverized mint leaves, and you don't want that.
    If not muddled enough, then you will not extract enough of the fruit juice to mix with the rum and sugar. This one takes practice, but your taste buds will tell you when you get it right.
    Avoid the temptation to top the Mojito with plain water or a lemon-lime soda.  I know, some restaurants do this, but it is always best to use club soda. Club soda has the unique ability to highlight the flavor notes of the cocktail without overpowering, all the while adding a sparkling quality to the drink.
    If you enjoy the refreshing mint flavor of the Mojito but find the drink to be too sweet, try adding a dash or two of Angostura Bitters to calm the cocktail down a bit.  
    Light rum is versatile, inexpensive, and widely available. However, you are out of luck if you are looking for a true Cuban rum in United States stores.  There is an American version of Havana Club for sale stateside made by Bacardi, but it is a far cry from the original Havana Club rum.  
    If you can't get ahold of the genuine article from Havana, my top light rums are Flor de Cana four year, El Dorado 3 year, Mount Gay silver and Cruzan light rum. All are great mixers and can be had for under $20. With summer on the horizon it may be wise to pick up one of each.
    We will be building and serving the Strawberry Mojito in a highball (tall) glass.
    Combine in highball glass.
    Add 2 oz light rum.
    Add 3/4 oz fresh lime juice.
    Add 5-10 leaves of mint.
    Add 3/4 oz simple syrup
    Add 2 whole strawberries, halved (for an original Mojito, omit the strawberries).
    Muddle ingredients.
    Add ice.
    Top with club soda and stir.
    Garnish with fresh strawberry and mint sprig.
    Until next week, enjoy responsibly.