While the Mojito's official history (as a printed recipe) dates back to 1932 Cuba, the base spirit rum has a much longer history, with roots all the way back to New Guinea in 6000 B.C.
But let's start with the Mojito.
What is it? Rum, lime, mint, sugar, sparkling water. A drink using rum, sugar, and mint, called El Draque, after Sir Francis Drake, is said to have been used as medicinal rations by Sir Francis and his sailors on their voyages in the 1500s.
As we know it today, the Mojito appeared on the menu at Sloppy Joe's Bar in Havana, Cuba in 1932. As with many cocktails, the Mojito became widely popular during Prohibition. Ironic that so many drinks that we love today were popularized in Prohibition!
The base spirit in the Mojito is rum. Rum is a distilled spirit made from sugarcane. The distillate can be made from fresh cane juice, crystalized sugar, cane syrup, or even molasses.
Sugarcane is believed to have been first domesticated in New Guinea as early as 6000 B.C. Sugarcane is a grass, and grows easily, making it easy to move around the world. It spread through Asia and Latin America, with references to a fermented beverage made from sugar appearing in very early history (200 B.C.).
By 1493, Christoper Columbus brought sugarcane to the Caribbean. Here, plantations emerged using slaves brought from West Africa to work the plantations. The British colony of Barbados and the French colony of Martinique became the heart of rum production in the 1600s. By 1650, Barbados was exporting to the North American colonies.
One last interesting bit about rum...the British Royal Navy, starting in 1655 under the tutelage of Oliver Cromwell, would give sailors a daily ration - a pint of rum. The purpose was to boost morale and productivity on long voyages. In 1731, this practice became an official issue, giving sailors a pint of wine or half-pint of rum issued in equal pats twice a day. This continued until 1970, when it was felt that the complexity and capability of the fleet required sober sailors. Although the ration exists no longer, there is Navy Strength Rum, which is typically 57 ABV.
Back to the Mojito...
4-5 mint leaves (or more, to taste)
1 oz simple syrup
2 oz silver rum
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
3-4 oz sparkling water
Mint sprig for garnish
Lime slice or wedge for garnish
Note: there are several ways to vary this recipe, from using sugar instead of simple syrup to using lime wedges instead of lime juice, to changing the ratios. Try it and adjust to your own tastes.
Place the mint and the simple syrup in a mixing glass. Muddle gently to release the mint oils. You don't need to break down the mint.
Add the rum, lime juice, and ice. Stir (or shake), and pour over fresh ice. Top with sparkling water and give one more stir.
Garnish with fresh mint and a lime slice or wedge. To release the oils from the mint, first, slap it against your palm, then place it in the glass.