It’s hard to beat a Mojito in terms of pure refreshment, especially in the warmer months of the year. A tall, frosty glass of mint, lime, soda and rum, the Cuban classic has been a popular drink for decades. The Yerba Buena, an intoxicating concoction from the late chef and restaurateur Donna Scala, takes the fundamentals of the drink and adds some fresh elements—reposado tequila is substituted for the rum and ginger beer steps in for the club soda, adding a peppery-sweet kick to the drink.
There are a few tips to help make sure the Yerba Buena comes out perfectly. First is to exercise some restraint when muddling the mint—over-muddling mint leaves and grinding them into pulp releases chlorophyll, which can give the drink some unwanted bitterness. Furthermore, the resulting leaves come apart as a stringy mess in the drink. Instead, gently press the leaves with a muddler to release their flavorful oils without pulverizing them.
Another tip for building the perfect Yerba Buena is to use whole ice cubes. While it can be appealing to fill the glass with crushed ice like a Mai Tai or Mint Julep, a few larger ice cubes leads to slower dilution, which is important for a drink you can take your time with. A Julep, on the other hand, is a bold, rich drink that benefits from the dilution of crushed ice.
The choice of ginger beer greatly affects the final product when making a drink like the Yerba Buena. For starters, there’s a crucial distinction between ginger ale, which is a sweetened soda flavored with ginger, and ginger beer, which gets its bubbles and flavor from the natural fermentation of ginger, sugar, yeast and water. If pressed, ginger ale will get the job done, but it lacks the lively spice of ginger beer.
These days there are plenty of excellent ginger beer options on the market. Fentimans sees plenty of action in cocktail bars, while Q Ginger Beer brings an extra level of spice to the mix. However, for a truly special drink (and some extra work), you can always try your hand at making your own ginger beer. A word of caution, though—once you make your own, it may be hard to go back to the bottled stuff.
- 8 mint leaves
- 1/2 ounce lime juice, freshly squeezed
- 1/2 ounce agave nectar
- 2 ounces reposado tequila
- Ginger beer, chilled, to top
- Garnish: mint sprig
- Garnish: lime wheel
In a highball glass muddle the mint, lime juice and agave nectar.
Add the tequila and fill with ice.
Top with the ginger beer and stir gently and briefly to combine.
Garnish with a mint sprig and a lime wheel.