Like slothful shaking, improper muddling ruins more cocktails than bad liquor ever did. To do it right, make sure you have a long muddler so you don’t scrape your knuckles on the rim of the glass, and that it’s not made of lacquered wood (that stuff chips off and gets into your drink). Muddle in a pint glass or shaker cup — something sturdy — on a stable surface. Standing over your cup, press down and twist until all the juice is squeezed out of the fruit and the herbs are bruised but not pulverized. Try this recipe for my Jalapeño Mojito to perfect your muddling skills.
Put the mint leaves in the flat palm of your hand, and clap your hands together once or twice to release the essential oils. Add the mint to the bottom of a pint glass, followed by the lime, jalapeño, and syrup. Muddle until all the juice is released from the lime, and the mint is bruised, but not pulverized. Add ice to a shaker tin — the bigger the cubes, the better — and shake vigorously for up to thirty seconds, until the tin is frosty. Add cracked ice to a Mason jar or pint glass. Strain the cocktail, and top with an ounce or two of seltzer water. Garnish with a mint sprig, and a slice of jalapeño. You can control the heat by keeping or removing the seeds. Purists use Havana Club 3-year-old rum for their mojitos, but good luck getting past the embargo. If you don’t feel like tracking it down, try Brugal, or for a great value, DonQ white rums.