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Mastering the Mojito With Dan Sabo

In "Masters of X," we spotlight bartenders chasing perfection in one drink. Here, Dan Sabo on the oft-maligned Mojito.

Mojito Cocktail Recipe

Dan Sabo, who oversees the food and beverage programs for Palihouse Hotels in Los Angeles, has a message for bartenders who claim to hate making, or drinking, Mojitos: Get over it.

“There’s no reason to say, ‘Oh, I hate making Mojitos so much. Why don’t you try a Southside Fizz or a Daiquiri? It’s so much better,’” he says. “These are all basically variations of the same drink,” comprising spirit, sugar and lime and sometimes mint. “These are the core ingredients of what you want in a refreshing cocktail.”

Since its initial surge of popularity in the early 2000s, the Mojito has gotten an undeservedly bad rap. Bartenders tend to reject it as too time-consuming to make, particularly during busy periods at the bar. “It’s the drink I’ve yelled at the most people for refusing to make,” says Sabo.

He attributes the problem to the fact that the Mojito has been unnecessarily over-complicated. While some might shake and strain the drink, others choose to roll it. Then there’s the issue of mint—often over-muddled—and the choice of whether to use granulated sugar or simple syrup.

To make the process more accessible, Sabo’s made a point to simplify and streamline the formula. For starters, his version is built in a Collins glass, not in a shaker, with the mint very gently pressed at the bottom, not heavily muddled or mashed. After the drink is built—save for the soda water topper—crushed ice is packed on top and swizzled, capturing the mint at the bottom of the glass. “One of the worst things that can happen [in a Mojito] is all the mint floats to the top,” says Sabo.

In terms of the building blocks, Sabo prefers to start with a relatively dry, white rum made in style of Bacardi’s Carta Blanca; his choice is Caña Brava, a Panamanian rum made by a master distiller who learned his craft in Cuba. However, he offers, “If I’m doing my dream Mojito at home, I like an even split between Cańa Brava and Plantation 3 Star.” (The latter lends a pleasant, fruity note that balances well with the drier, more floral qualities of the Caña Brava.) Sabo also adjusts the sweetener, opting for a rich simple syrup rather than one made in a 1:1 ratio, for added viscosity. He then dials back the club soda to just a splash and adds a generous bouquet of mint, settled atop the crushed ice and directly beside the straw, to ensure plenty of aromatics with every sip.

Though Sabo doesn’t recall the first time he made a Mojito, he definitely recalls the moment when he knew he got it right: While running a rooftop bar, his team of bartenders began to actively recommend the drink after realizing “it was easy to execute [and] they didn’t have to dirty a tin,” he says. “It just checked all of the boxes.”

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