Carrie Bradshaw may have put the cosmopolitan at the top of the cocktail menu, but that craze was nothing compared to the mojito phenomenon. This popular Cuban import, with its muddled mint, lime, and rum topped with soda, is challenging the margarita for summer-drink supremacy. The mojito is on the cover of magazines, making the morning talk-show rounds, and single-handedly starting an herbal cocktail frenzy. She's the liquid J.Lo.
I can't remember when another cocktail has stolen so much of the attention. But there are other summer drinks I love to make. Maybe I rail against the popular because I wasn't one in high school. Maybe I still can't drink white rum after the "incident" of '95. Maybe I just hate muddling. But what is it about the mojito?
Is it the mint? Then I can't help but feel sorry for the mint julep. It's basically the same drink, if you switch out bourbon for the rum, lime, and soda, and pour it over crushed ice. Light, caramel flavors mingle with therapeutic mint, making the julep the nighttime version of sweet tea. The mint julep is the official drink of the Kentucky Derby and a hallmark of Southern hospitality. It requires that same attention to detail as a mojito. The most serious version in town comes from the Frontier Room (2203 First Ave., Belltown), right down to the use of silvery cups.
Maybe the mojito's island mystique is more appealing than the julep's associations with an upper-crusty horse race. But if the romance of Havana is driving this trend, then the daiquiri must be really pissed. After all, she was Hemingway's true love on the isle. Forget what 157 episodes of The Love Boat and too many nights at TGI Friday's might have taught you—a daiquiri is more like a gimlet than an adult Slurpie. Just muddled lime and sugar combined with rum, a true daiquiri is served over crushed ice in a cocktail glass. Make sure you ask for an old-fashioned daiquiri so you don't get the one in the coconut shell. The right rum also makes this cocktail transcend mere deliciousness. La Isla in Ballard (2320 N.W. Market St.) has the best rum selection in town, and a fine happy hour to offset the cost of its pricier potables.
But if any cocktail plays Jan to all that Marcia, Marcia, Marcia of the mojito, it's the caipirinha. Made with the same recipe as a daiquiri, the caipirinha uses Brazil's signature cachaça, a brandy made from sugar-cane juice that closely resembles rum. Most bars that pay any attention to rum will have cachaça on hand. My vote: Order a round with some plantain chips to decompress with after work on Marjorie's magical patio (2331 Second Ave., Belltown).
What I learned after high school was that the popular girls wouldn't be popular without our attention. Give other drinks a chance, and lead your own cocktail trend.