Enjoying a mojito on the Malecón, Puerto Vallarta

Ron is my best friend everywhere it’s too warm to drink Scotch.

Just as Scotch is my winter drink, rum —  ron in Spanish — is my summer drink. In the winter I usually spend some time in the Caribbean and Central America, where rum and rum based drinks are ubiquitous.

Without any doubt, my favourite rum drink is a mojito, pronounced in the Spanish style as mo-hee-toe, a lovely blend of white rum, lime, cane sugar and mint leaves, made refreshing with sparkling water.We grow mint in the garden, in its own pot, as mint is very invasive and hard to control if left to its own devices. Best for this drink is spearmint. The derivation of the name is lost in history, but possibly derives from mojo, a spicy lime dressing imported to Cuba from the Canary Islands, home to many of the island’s original Spanish immigrants. Writer Ernest Hemingway, who made Cuba his home, was a big fan of the drink which he drank at La Bodeguita del Medio. The famous bar claims to be the birthplace of the mojito in 1942, but other evidence shows the cocktail to be much older.

Grog, the Royal Navy sailor’s drink dating back to the 1740s, is simply watered down rum with lime juice and sugar, to ward off scurvy, surely an ancestor of the mojito. It’s why foreigners call us Brits “limeys.”

Another great Cuban favourite is the daiquiri, pronounced dak-eerie. Originally, this was a simple beverage, named after the beach in Cuba where it supposedly originated during the Spanish-American War of 1898. Like grog, it’s just rum, lime juice and sugar mixed and poured over cracked ice. A despicable variant is the frozen daiquiri, suitable only for bar hopping young ladies. Not to disparage bar hopping young ladies, especially those discovered throughout the Caribbean, but the chill kills all the taste buds, so bartenders simply up the sweetener content to compensate.

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Tom or Ron Collins

Southern gentlemen enjoy the mint julep, which mixes bourbon whisky with mint and sugar, omits lime juice and adds a dash of bitters. I’ve never enjoyed bourbon, so this is not usually found in my cocktail lexicon, but I couldn’t avoid mentioning it in any story connected with mint. Since the 1930s, this has been the drink of choice at the Kentucky Derby, raced at Churchill Downs.

Another American variant of the tall cocktail is the Tom Collins, which substitutes gin and lemon juice. I learned how to make this cocktail during my bartender course at George Brown College.

Watching the great Sean Connery playing James Bond in the not very good movie Thunderball, in a casino bar in what is now the downtown Nassau British Colonial Hilton Hotel, I spot him ordering a Ron Collins, simply a Tom Collins made with white rum. At one time in my career I did a lot of business involving travel to the Bahamas, and the British Colonial is where I stayed, away from the tourist traps on Paradise Island, although I don’t ever recall ordering a Ron Collins. For trivia fans, the other James Bond movie filmed at the hotel was the dreadful satirical 1967 version of Casino Royale.

The House

1703 bar celebrates the founding of Mount Gay

Barbados, one of my favourite Caribbean islands, claims to have the world’s oldest rum factory in continuous production and at the Mount Gay visitor centre they tell the story very well. I like the rhyme for remembering the recipe for Bajan rum punch: one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong and four of weak, referring to the proportions of lime juice, sugar,  rum and water. Other islands have variants of rum punch, which may include pineapple and orange juices, grenadine and nutmeg. They are good all-day refreshing drinks for those who eschew colas and other sweetened pop. The trick to a good rum punch, according to the friendly bartender at the 1703 bar at The House, is to make up a good size batch the day before and refrigerate overnight. The bar is named after the date Mount Gay rum was first distilled on the island.

Mount Gay rum is also very popular with North American sailors, since they sponsor many yachting regattas. I won my own bright red Mount Gay cap racing at Youngstown, NY. It has faded over the years to a soft pink and is much treasured.


And how many caipirinha’s have we had today, señor?

My final favourite is a Brazilian variant, discovered during our sojourn in Costa Rica a few years ago.

The caipirinha (ky-peer-in-ya) is made with the distilled cane sugar liquor known as cachaça (ka-sha-ka). Of course, rum is made from the same ingredient, so the cocktail is a cousin to all our rum drinks. Cane sugar and lime slices are muddled together in the bottom of a short glass, ice is added, and then a gentleman’s portion of cachaça is poured over the top. If you insist on measuring, then never less than 2 ounces of cachaça, which is often over proof, so a couple of these will put you under the table. But happy.

1 1/2 oz white rum
Juice from 1/2 freshly lime
10 fresh mint leaves
1 tbsp simple syrup (or 1/2 tbsp white sugar)
Club soda

Put the freshly washed mint leaves in the bottom of a glass and crush the leaves with the end of a wooden spoon, or a pestle if you have one. If you are using raw sugar rather than simple syrup, add it now. Squeeze the ½ lime into the glass and add the simple syrup if you haven’t used sugar. Add ice, pour over the rum and top with club soda.

2 oz white Cuban rum
Juice 1/2 fresh lime
1/4 oz simple syrup

Shake with lots of finely crushed ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Mint Julep
2 oz Bourbon
3/4 oz simple syrup
12 mint leaves
3 dashes of Angostura bitters

Chill the shaker, put the mint in the bottom and muddle (crush the leaves), add the simple syrup and Bourbon, fill the shaker with ice and shake well. Strain into a tall cocktail glass, add plenty of crushed ice and stir. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

Ron Collins
2 oz white rum
Juice of 2 lemons (2 oz)
1 tsp simple syrup
Club soda

Fill a tall glass with ice, add rum, lemon juice and syrup, top up with club soda and stir well. Garnish with a lemon slice, cherry and a straw.

Barbados Rum Punch
1 oz freshly squeezed lime juice
2 oz simple syrup
3 oz Barbados gold rum
4 oz filtered water
3 dashes Angostura bitters

Remember the rhyme and the proportions 1:2:3:4! Squeeze the limes, fresh, no substitutes, into a glass container, add simple syrup, rum, bitters and water. Mix well, cover and refrigerate overnight. Serve in a tall glass with plenty of ice and top with freshly grated nutmeg.

Caribbean Rum Punch
1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
2 cups grenadine syrup
2 cups fresh pineapple juice
2 cups fresh orange juice
2 cups white rum
1 cup gold rum
Several good dashes Angostura bitters

Strain juices into a glass container or punch bowl, add two rums and bitters and mix well. Refrigerate overnight, or for at least an hour, and serve in a tall glass with lots of ice. Garnish with fresh orange or pineapple slices.

1 fresh lime cut into 4 or 5 slices
2 tsp cane sugar
2 oz cachaça

Put lime wedges in a short glass, add sugar and muddle well. Fill the glass with ice and add cachaça. Stir.

Simple syrup
Mix pure cane sugar and filtered water in the proportion 1:1. Heat in a pan until all the sugar dissolves, then cool. Make in a batch and keep in a bottle to dispense as needed.

This article was originally published on June 8, 2013.

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