The Mojito has rudely interrupted many a bar’s flow. One order of the classic minty drink tends to lead to another, until every patron in the place is calling for a summery highball that makes bartenders groan.
Peter Altenburg found a better way: For his riff on the Mojito called &thesea, he skips the pile of mint at the bottom of the glass altogether and instead leans on “mint-washed” rum and mint-infused Spanish vermut.
Bird, Altenburg’s Copenhagen bar, pre-batches all of its cocktails, which increases consistency, decreases service time and lessens the clatter of bottles at the backbar, a crucial win for a jazz bar that regularly hosts DJs spinning vinyl. “We have reduced most noise from the bar,” Altenburg says, in order to “focus on acoustics and great music experiences.”
In the case of the &thesea, the cocktail also looks more streamlined than a classic Mojito, while still packing a minty freshness that can sometimes even elude the rum classic made the traditional way. Altenburg doesn’t muddle any mint in the glass, and the presentation features no accoutrements beyond an ice pillar and a small mint sprig. The secret to all this clarity lies in two types of infusions.
“The essential mint leaf oils are quite delicate and easily turn into ‘wet dog’ notes,” warns Altenburg, and the key to avoiding that is quickly introducing alcohol to the herbs after extracting their oils. The first infusion starts with an oleo saccharum made with superfine sugar, mint stems and mint leaves muddled together and refrigerated overnight. It continues with a “rum wash,” where unaged rum combines with the mix and rests in the freezer for another 24 hours. Keeping everything frigid secures a strong base of minty rum while preventing “a heavy, pungent and undesired mint flavor,” according to Altenburg, who uses the technique for drinks “that carry fragile essential oils.” That includes a springtime play on a French 75 featuring a pine-shoot oleo saccharum washed with a local neutral spirit, and an Americano that showcases basil oleo saccharum washed with vermouth. Altenburg says the vermouth’s lower alcohol content provides a gentler medium for extracting oils, pulling even more delicate flavors from the herb than a high-proof wash.
The second mint infusion for the &thesea also uses vermouth to extract these lighter, subtler flavors. In a blender, Altenburg briefly blitzes Spanish vermut blanco with fresh mint leaves and lets the mixture sit for an hour in the fridge. Both mint washes get strained through a coffee filter, resulting in clear spirits with a slight green tinge. Together, the two infusions capture a wide range of the herb’s nuances, from leaf to stem.
Mixed into the &thesea, along with malic acid for tartness and a housemade elderflower syrup, the mint-packed ingredients offer “a mild and almost silky liquid with tons of mint aromas and a plentiful yet elegant rum kick,” according to Altenburg.
Beyond the Mojito and its relatives like the Old Cuban, the mint rum could work well in a Mint Julep, a Southside (or a Baltimore Southside) or as the float in a Swampwater. Meanwhile, the mint vermouth might feel at home in the Lifetime Ban, a play on a reverse Martini that adds sherry and mint to the formula, though Altenburg recommends letting it shine in a dead-simple serve: “The mint vermouth is absolutely brilliant with sparkling water or tonic.”