Watermelon Mojito (Shrub)

Watermelon Mojito

Watermelon Mojito

Watermelon Mojito – 12 Bottle Bar Style

2 oz Pusser’s Rum
1.5 oz Watermelon Juice
1.5 oz Lemon Juice
1 oz Watermelon-Balsamic Gastrique
2 oz Club Soda
Handful of mint

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.

Watermelon-Balsamic Gastrique

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.


5 responses to “Watermelon Mojito (Shrub)

  1. Eeek.

    I know that I’m responsible for this. And I am flattered. But it’s not exactly what I had in mind.

    When I was thinking about seasonality I was thinking about the bigger picture about what base spirits pair best with the seasons. I know there are seasons in LA but it’s a lot different in the North East.

    The Fall just makes me ache for applejack.

    And yes, nothing screams summer like watermelon. But at heart I’m a simple man with simple tastes. I am also a defender of things like the Mojito.

    Your drink sounds delicious, but I think with dark rum, lemon, watermelon and the gastrique it no longer resembles the noble Mojito.

    For what it’s worth, my seasonal rum drink from your 12BB would be a Pusser’s with tonic and a squeeze of lime. Assuming of course that Pusser’s plays well with the quinine. I suspect that since it’s British it would work famously.

    When it’s hot in the Northeast, and you are making cocktails, the last thing you want to do is muddle or shake anything.

    Keep up the good work. And I’ll do my best to keep you sharp.

    • Daniel, let me offer this: it may not be the drink you had in mind, but were you to cozy up to the bar at my home, it’s certainly a drink I would proudly slide in front of you. One sip is all I’d ask.

      One word you used in your piece on this bold experiment is “folly”. It’s a word that’s closer to my heart than you can probably imagine. Those who know me will attest to that. I believe in dazzle, in waking up not only people’s palates but also their very notion of drinking. I want to drag my readers away from the Vodka-Tonic, even if it’s kicking and screaming. I want someone who doesn’t have a single bottle of bitters to go out of their way to find one. And, yes, I want people to know that a gastrique is easy to make and delicious in drinks.

      Of course, delicious is the operative word. I’m disciple of Thomas Keller’s philosophy that ingredients should be used however they taste best. Making a carrot soup? Roast the carrots first. For me, the standard of watermelon juice thrown into your everyday Mojito isn’t only lazy and uninspired, it gives no thought to the bigger picture. Watermelon and balsamic are a timeless combination. Likewise, salt and pepper with watermelon. The goal of the drink was not to besmirch the glorious Mojito but to apply its name to a new drink, one that is (hopefully) simultaneously familiar and exotic. I would compare my drink to the traditional Mojito pretty much the way I’d compare Keller’s “Peanut Butter and Jelly” truffles and pate de fruit to a good, old Skippy, Smuckers, and Wonderbread sandwich. One is inspired by the other, and I’m happy to live in a world with both of them.

      If you go back to my very first post, you’ll see that this all started because of the El Bulli spherical olives. I’m a tireless believer in food and drink that excites. I can always have the ordinary. With every drink or bottle I present, I want there to be something intriguing and magical — even if it’s just Pinkers.

      Ultimately, it’s not that I was trying to make what you would make — or even what you would drink — but to take the inspiration you give me and to find my own muse in it. I like following muses, especially those of other people. Heck, I never would have dreamed up “Inception” in a million years, but I’m certainly glad Christopher Nolan did. I’m also glad you mentioned the Pusser’s and tonic. Who to say that won’t be on the blog soon. 🙂

  2. Fair enough. I was afraid I had inadvertently steered you off course. Glad that I didn’t.

    While I think it’s annoying how many quotation marks Keller uses on his menu, in some circumstances I recognize their importance.

    If for example, your cocktail were the Watermelon “Mojito” I would have been significantly less concerned. I have seen your recipe for the Manhattan, so on some level I knew that taking liberties with drinks is something that you do.

    It’s not to say that the classics cannot be improved upon. I just think the original names need to be protected. I mean, my god, look at what happened to the daiquiri.

  3. In hindsight, this really should be called a Watermelon Shrub. Consider it noted here, and I’ll change as merited.

  4. Pingback: Simple Shrubs | 12 Bottle Bar

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