What do you collect when you travel? I have an acquisitive soul; linens and tiny ceramics and jewelry get squirreled away in my bags on every trip. But I've found that the best souvenirs of travel are the lightest to carry. When I travel, I look for new things to learn, like the soufflé I picked up in Paris, and the duck magret in Nice. My husband and I have also acquired cocktail recipes quite often in our travels, and I hardly need to tell you that these are my favorites.
Two summers ago I picked up a new one, a very summery cocktail from an unexpected place. It's a fizzy concoction of mint, lime, rum, and a hit of grapefruit from my favorite neon orange bottle. It's a little sweet, a little bitter, and totally, totally refreshing. This is my cocktail of the summer, folks.
This recipe is a mash-up of places and influences, and it doesn't easily betray its origins. Italian Campari, the Cuban mojito, a tall glass of ice. Can you guess where I learned it? In a swanky little bar at the top of the National Portrait Gallery in London. That's right — a mojito on a chilly day, under a gray sky in England.
My husband and I were in the middle of a long day of trekking around the city, jet-lagged and a little footsore. London was a madhouse, with German fans of two soccer (ahem — football) teams in town for the Champions League Final that day; Trafalgar Square was a mob of beer-drinking, flag-waving, red-hat-wearing fans who looked dressed for a Quidditch match as much as a football final.
We squeezed into the last places at the little bar at the top of the Portrait Gallery, after an hour wandering through Elizabeths and dukes. You never know, dropping into a museum cafe, what you'll find. Will it be overpriced and underwhelming? Our bartender dispelled our concerns quickly, serving me up a delicious sip of red currants and Champagne, and talking my husband into a Campari mojito.
I was initially dubious; as much as I love Campari, a mojito sounded like it could be sickly sweet and unbalanced. But the drink was perfect and shockingly good — a huge glass of crushed ice, with handfuls of muddled mint, a float of tonic water, and a sharp, tangy edge of grapefruit Campari.
I slipped out to go to the ladies' room and muttered to my husband, "See if you can get the proportions." I'm never sure with bartenders whether they will hold their recipes close to the vest, or share them.
I came back and my husband held out a little slip of receipt paper, grinning. Sure enough, the bartender had not only shared, but written down the recipe in a scrawl we took back home and deciphered carefully.
A little tricky to make out, right? I couldn't quite get the third ingredient, but assumed it was white rum — until realizing that it's probably actually white sugar. The drink seemed sweet enough already, however, and I like the extra kick of rum, so I let my improvisation stand.
We've been sipping this drink ever since our trip, enjoying its fruity fizz, and the memory of refreshment on a gray day in England.
You don't have to travel the world to meet the Campari mojito; let it come to you. Hop in the hammock with one in hand; you'll be glad — I promise.
Campari Mojito for One
1/4 ounce (about 4 large sprigs) fresh mint, plus additional for garnish
1 ounce lime juice
1 ounce white rum
1 1/2 ounce Campari
2 lime wedges
2 to 4 ounces good tonic water, such as Fevertree or Q Tonic
Place the mint sprigs in a large glass or cocktail shaker, and add the lime juice and rum. Muddle with a muddler or a wooden spoon for several minutes, crushing the mint and releasing its aroma. Add the Campari and a few cubes of ice, and shake or stir until well chilled.
Fill a 12-ounce highball glass with crushed ice and squeeze a lime wedge over top. Pour in enough tonic water to fill the glass a quarter full, then pour in the strained Campari mixture. Garnish with a little more tonic water, the second lime wedge, and mint. Best with a straw!
Pitcher Campari Mojitos for a Crowd
3 packed cups mint leaves, plus more to garnish
1 cup lime juice
1 cup white rum
1 1/2 cups Campari
16 lime wedges
3 to 4 cups good tonic water, such as Fevertree or Q Tonic
Place the mint leaves with the lime juice and rum in a pitcher. Muddle with a muddler or a wooden spoon for several minutes, crushing the mint and releasing its aroma. Stir in the Campari and refrigerate overnight or until chilled.
To serve, fill 12-ounce highball glasses with crushed ice and squeeze a lime wedge over top. Pour in enough tonic water to fill the glass a quarter full, then pour in the strained Campari mixture. Garnish with a little more tonic water, the second lime wedge, and mint. Best with a straw!
(Image credits: Faith Durand)