Watermelon Mojito (Shrub)
Watermelon Mojito – 12 Bottle Bar Style
Muddle mint in a large rocks glass, just enough to release the oils.
Add rum, juices and gastrique. Give a quick stir.
Fill glass with crushed ice.
Add club soda. Stir.
Garnish with a mint sprig or watermelon soldier, as desired.
* * *
When I originally posted this, I called it a Mojito, as that’s the drink I set out to make. Blindly, I veered into the path of an oncoming Shrub — a class of drinks made with grastriques, as this is. The end result is something in between. Call it whichever you like.
I’ll admit it; this one may be a bit too complicated. For something as simple and classic as the Mojito, this recipe overdoes it a bit. I do assure you, however, that there are reasons for my shenanigans. Last week, Daniel over at FUSSYlittleBLOG paid us the great honor of featuring 12 Bottle Bar and saying very nice things about us. Both in his post and in my exchanges with him, Daniel expressed a few well-taken critiques of our way of thinking. Which is excellent, because that’s exactly the kind of response we’re looking for.
First, Daniel likes his cocktails to be a little more seasonal than what we’ve been presenting so far. Fair enough. With the unveiling of all the bottles behind us, seasonality will be much more the fashion around here. Daniel also likes to keep a bottle of good white rum on hand during the summer. I can’t argue with that, as I do love my Small Dingers and Daiquiris. The upshot of all this is that 12 Bottle Bar can’t take a friendly challenge sitting down. You want a seasonal, white rum drink? We’ll not only make you one, we’ll do it while keeping within the confines of our experiment (meaning, we’ll do it with dark rum). To that end, I give you our variation on the Watermelon Mojito.
Of course, I could have just made a regular Mojito and been done with it, but where’s the fun in that? Daniel wanted seasonal, and for me, nothing brings summer to mind more than watermelon. As a kid, a big ring on a dinner plate was synonymous with dessert. But watermelon immediately presented a problem. A good summer rum drink like the Mojito or the aforementioned Daiquiri is primarily about quenching your thirst while cooling you down. It should be sour and a bit brutish, but two sips later, you’re in love. If I was going to make a Mojito, these qualities were musts. I had to find a unique way to provide them because when I chose watermelon, I essentially threw natural tartness out the window.
The first stop was lemon juice. Lemon and watermelon play nicely together, as lemon is a less bombastic citrus than lime. After some experimentation, I found that an equal ratio of lemon to watermelon produced the best balance of tart without the complete loss of watermelon flavor. Still, the drink wasn’t tart enough, and I had yet to add the sweetness. I would have to fall back on a secret weapon.
A gastrique is, essentially, a fruit syrup with vinegar. If watermelon has a culinary soul mate, it’s balsamic, so I reached into my bag of French secret sauces, and dug out this baby. I also chose the gastrique for another reason. Daniel made note that he tends to like simple, uncomplicated drinks, whereas my own creations tend to be, well… complicated. Rather than capitulate, I decided that I might as well go all out and give him something to point a finger at and say “That’s what I mean, right there!” should he ever feel the need.
In all honesty, as complicated as the gastrique may sound — it is French after all — I have found it an invaluable (and deceptively simple) technique to bring to both my cooking and my cocktails. This watermelon-balsamic one, in particular, is just lovely. It provides a depth and soul to the drink that sugar alone just can’t match. It also provides the needed bridge for the boldness of the Pusser’s.
For the watermelon juice, use whatever technique you can. I have a commercial juicer, but a blender will work too. Once you have your liquid, give it a strain to remove the thicker pulp and any seeds. The same goes for the lemon juice. As for the “soldier”, it’s a term that refers to a finger-sized slice of bread. No one will complain if you slice your garnish otherwise.
In the end, we have a properly tart Mojito with a nice alcohol bite and a smooth watermelon base. It’s seasonal, it keeps with the rules of the 12 Bottle Bar conceit, and damned if it isn’t flashy and complicated. Of course, it wouldn’t be complete without a tip of the glass and a cheers to Daniel…
Here’s to keeping us sharp, here’s to pushing us further, and above all, here’s to your kindness. Salute!
Now, about this Gastrique: As mentioned above, a gastrique is a fruit syrup with vinegar. Truth-be-told, it’s actually a caramel that uses vinegar to retard the solidifying process. Trust me, it’s easier than it sounds. I’m not a cookbook writer nor a chef, so please forgive any errors in my descriptions below.
0.5 cup Demerara Sugar
0.5 cup Water
2 oz (approx.) Watermelon Juice
1 oz (approx.) Balsamic Vinegar
Pinch Kosher Salt
Small Pinch White Pepper
Combine sugar and water in a skillet over medium high heat and bring to a boil, stirring all the while. Always continuing to stir, let mixture continue to boil until it has reduced by about half. Add watermelon juice, and return to a boil. Let the mixture reduce again — it should only take a few minutes — then remove from heat. As caramel thickens, stir in balsamic as well as salt and pepper.
When mixture cools, you should have a tart, slightly sweet syrup nearly as thick as molasses. It should taste stupidly complex and delicious. Enjoy.