Bottle RocketsBy Matt Markovich
JUDGING BY SOME of the sorry-ass mojitos I've quaffed, mixing a mojito is tougher than you might imagine. There's a vast gulf of difference between a crisp, cool concoction of fresh mint, fresh lime, crushed ice, a little sugar, and a lot of smooth rum that provokes an involuntary "Aaahhh!" after you take a nice gulp and the flat, syrupy, wilted-mint nightmare that tastes like algae-clotted water from a stagnant pond.
Restaurants and bars put mojitos on the menu because they're extremely popular and they can charge a chunk of change for them. But due to the labor involved in preparing one mojito (let alone multiple mojitos), they're the bane of all but the most dedicated bartenders. After much research I can safely say that the best mojito you can find in San Francisco is mixed by Aaron at Eddie Rickenbacker's (133 Second St. at Minna). But I'll get to his method in a minute ...
The mojito is an excellent litmus test for a bar's ability to formulate premium cocktails. It's a bitter pill to order a $9 cocktail only to find that it sucks. Many would say paying $9 for a single drink of anything is madness, but at those places that use only the freshest and/or most exotic ingredients, juices, and spirits and pay attention to each detail, from the sequence in which they construct the drink to the final artistic bit of garnish, it can be worth it. Regrettably, few drinks are made with such care. With the mojito, you won't find rare rums used, because you're mixing in so many other things that it doesn't make sense to use something rare or too dark. It's a refresher; you use a light rum so it doesn't get too molasses-ey or oversweet. At the same time, it can't be such gutter rum that it detracts from the smoothness of the final beverage.
Case in point: Luna Park. I recently sampled its $8 example and was disappointed. In a pricey drink it used Castillo rum its well rum. The mint was minimally muddled, the leaves limp and still with their stems on. It was a drag. Luckily, the same wasn't true of the other inventive cocktails (and there are many), but I was a man on a mojito mission. Sadly, the same was true of the much-ballyhooed mojito from Enrico's. Too sweet, bad mint, much stem. Stems bring nothing but watery bitterness to the mix and blow the whole deal a stem-on mojito is the surest sign of a lame mojito. Destino has got it together and, truth be told, has one of most interesting rum selections in town. Its mojito was well crafted. The mint was fresh, and the overall drink was refreshing. Destino knows its rum and cachaça (a Brazilian sugarcane spirit) cocktails; even its well rum is something out of the ordinary.
There are many variations on the mojito. The mango mojito at Circolo evokes, like the place itself, a Los Angeles-Los Vegas atmosphere. The mango juice lends a not-unpleasant bit of viscosity, but there was no love in the mix, and one suspected the happy color of the mango helped mask its overall lack of spirit. The Sumo-jito at Jade is a great option for those who refuse to drink rum. As a confessed rum lover, I found its vodka mojito lacking the depth of a rum-based version, but the use of triple sec creates a flavorful alternative.
But what makes Eddie Rickenbacker's the best mojito in San Francisco? Passion. You won't find other "fancy" cocktails at a drinker's bar like Rickenbacker's. There's no biodynamic elderflower syrup or saffron-infused, quadruple-distilled vodka, just honest booze and the kind of people who know how to drink it. Aaron at Rickenbacker's loves mojitos, and he's bent on coming up with the best preparation he can. First, put a couple of ice cubes in the bottom of a pint glass, add superfresh mint (discarding any discolored bits and all stems). Add three sugar cubes and commence muddling (macerating the ice, mint, and sugar with a pestle in the glass). Add the freshly squeezed juice of one nice lime, a dollop of Trader Vic's almond orgeat syrup, and a generous pour of Bacardi silver, top the glass with a shaker, and shake the mixture vigorously. Strain from the shaker into a (fresh) pint glass filled with ice (removing all but the tiniest bits of mint so the flavor is there but not the straw-clogging annoyance), top off with club soda from one of those tiny Schweppes bottles (far superior in effervescence to soda from one of those bar guns), and garnish with a slice of lime. Drink. Aaahhh ... Sound insanely complicated? It is, but the result is head and shoulders above anything else you'll find.
The mojito is more a location than a simple libation. It's sitting in
the shade of a palm on a white sand beach, digging your toes into the
warm sand as you lazily fan yourself with your Panama hat. The mojito
is the perfect warm-weather cooler, a nice tongue scrubber that helps
cleanse the palate after more fruity tropical drinks, or the perfect way
to extinguish the fire of jerk chicken. The well-mixed mojito is a work
of art, but have mercy on your bartender. The act of creation is never