Why Rum as category still needs consumers to order and enjoy Mojitos
I remember my first time I discovered a Mojito. It was in the early part of the year 2000. I was living and working in Sydney and someone I worked with was talking about this new drink they had discovered whilst working at one of our sister bars. It was all very new and strange to me. I went to the bar check it out and was pleasantly surprised by what I experienced. At that point in time, I like most bartenders and consumers had never had the come across the soon to be popular combination of Rum, lime, mint, sugar and soda.
Fast forward to 2013 and as the year comes to an end the world has very much warmed to Rum again. What do we have to thank for this? Well I believe that the reinvigoration of the category has been in part down to the Mojito’s success as a cocktail. I started working back in London in February 2001 as a bartender in the heart of the West End at Navajo Joe (now Joes Southern kitchen and bar) we were a bar with a South West / Latin American feel and focused on Tequila, Rum and Bourbon. We were also one of handful of places to be able to drink Mojito’s at the time. They did in part help to pay most of our wages. We sold a lot and people could not get enough. We prepped boxes of limes daily and handled a lot of mint. At one point we but 5 different one on the menu. Bear in mind it was 2001 and that was cool then. The Mojito was far from main stream at this point, and unlike now, the packaged drink market and mainstream managed bar groups were still far from embracing and piggy backing off the niche success of this drink up to this point.
The key part about the Mojito in my opinion was making people aware that it was a Rum based drink. The look of surprise on most people’s faces was a sight to remember, they could not believe that that this tall, light, and aromatic and refreshing drink with great sweet and sour balance was based on Rum. On the whole the Rum based cocktails of the time were poor Tiki classics that had been done a great dis-service. Bad Pina Coladas and terrible Mai Tai’s, Zombies and Planters Punches were easy to find. The Mojito helped the Rum market to prosper. Brands such as Appleton used the serve as a key driver for their strategic attack on the aged Rum market when they began an assault with Appleton VX in 2003. Rum, as we know now is diverse and broad in it styles and the Mojito helped to show this off.
We are now generally more aware that the drink suits the lighter bodied and younger aged Rums , but back then it was easy to cross or to upsell to different Rums in the drink, especially older expressions. This was part of the appeal as the drink grew in popularity. Have your Mojito your way or the way your Bartenders recommended it. Consumers loved to be shown what was new and cool with Rum. They wanted to be the first to try new Rums and taste them in their favourite way. This allowed people to realise that the whole Caribbean and as well as parts of Central and South America had a great selection Rums to offer. I personally remember the excitement as El Dorado launched its 3 year old in 2008, and the way the industry and the consumer reacted to its taste in in drinks. It is my personal favourite for a Mojito and Daiquiri as I feel it just balances against all the other flavours really well.
In 2012 the Mojito was the most popular Cocktail ordered in high end and mainstream U.K on-trade. This data was published by First Drinks in their annual Market Report. It’s no surprise to read this and it further proves that the U.K has gone mad for their Mojito fix. Making them at home is hard and going out for one is easier, and I feel that this has certainly helped the cause for our favourite minty libation. I believe that this trend fuelled more demand for Rum drinks and Rum brands to showcase themselves. Further growth of the Rum category is underpinned by serves like the Dark and Stormy, Rum or Spiced Rum and Ginger Beer becoming more popular and available. This of course has been coupled by bartenders enjoying the fun Rum culture of Tiki and serves like Swizzles and Punch becoming cool again.
My feeling is that although we say we don’t like to admit it, we owe the Mojito a lot. I for one am glad that the consumer fell to the minty and limey spell it cast. I am glad they enjoyed watching bartenders sweat and muddle all night with no remorse about ordering them by the dozen. It has all been worth it. I am glad to have contributed in my own way to the success it has had by sweating hard on many a night to deliver what people wanted. I personally looked forward to some down time with a few bunches of mint prior to shift. It changed the way we prepared our bars and influenced the way we worked but most of all it made Rum cool again. If Rum is to grow more we need the mainstream to continue to ply great, good and well, even average Mojito’s to the thirsty customer, because they still cannot get enough of the simple but effective combination of flavours that make up the Mojito. This will continue to drive awareness and ultimately drive the consumer to experiment more with new and different Rums in drinks.
One the flip side to this, many uber cool and trend setting bars may not list a Mojito anymore, as they know people will ask for one or order one anyway. Sometimes you may find , upon trying to order one, that they may try to convince you that you should order something else because they think that now, I quote” Mojito’s are boring”. That is their choice, and in my opinion as long as it’s not forceful, it remains fine, as long as they try selling you another type of Rum cocktail! Or leave you content and happy with the drink they sell to you.
Overall I don’t see the Mojito slowing down in terms of its global appeal. Cuba blessed us with one of its greatest liquid gifts and I thank them for that.
Head of Training and Consultancy Shaker UK Limited
Authentic Caribbean Rum International Panel Member