What makes a good cocktail? To me, it’s all about flavor – of the alcohol itself and the ingredients paired with it. I lean toward tart, herbal tones rather than juices and sweeteners. One exception may be a mojito. For me, the lime counters the sugar in the traditional drink, but it’s really all about the mint.
Years ago, a Whitefish bartender who mixed mint-forward mojitos let me in on her secret: mint simple syrup. By infusing sugar and water with the herb, the flavor stays fresh, bright and strong. The sugar doesn’t muddy the drink or sink to the bottom of the glass. It also makes the cocktail easy to mix even if you don’t own a muddler: Because the main source of the mint flavor is the syrup, you can simply spank the fresh leaves to release their oils and scent.
A simple syrup made of 3/4 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water will keep at least a month. A thicker blend with equal parts sugar and water may last longer but will give you a sweeter cocktail. The process of making a simple syrup is so, well, simple that you don’t really need a recipe: heat the sugar in the water until it dissolves and then let it cool. You can stop there and use the sugar water to sweeten a range of beverages.
For a mega-mint mojito, add 1 cup of fresh mint leaves as soon as you remove the syrup from the heat, cover it with a lid, let it steep for 30 minutes, and then strain out the mint. Mint grows easily our climate, returning year after year, and my favorite variety is black peppermint (Mentha x piperita vulgaris). For the tastiest cocktail, drop in a few fresh leaves and squeeze in fresh lime juice. For a local spirit, I lean toward white rum handcrafted by Whistling Andy in Bigfork.
4 mint leaves
1/2 ounce mint simple syrup
1/2 ounce lime juice
Cubed or crushed ice
2 ounces white rum
2 ounces club soda, or to taste
Mint sprig and lime slice for garnish
Muddle or spank the mint leaves. To muddle, put the leaves in a heavy 10-ounce or larger glass and press the muddler gently onto the leaves several times, twisting slightly with each press. To spank, place a leaf in your palm, clap your hands once sharply, and drop the leaf into the glass, repeating with each leaf.
Pour in the mint syrup and lime juice and stir to combine. Half-fill the glass with cubed or crushed ice, and then pour in the rum and club soda. Stir well, mixing until the flavors at the bottom of the glass are evenly distributed. Garnish with a mint sprig and lime slice.
Julie Laing is a Bigfork-based cookbook author and food blogger at TwiceAsTasty.com.
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