DOTW: Mint Julep

Posted by a Special Guest on 07.27.07 7:04 AM

(c)2007 Sean Timberlake + DPaul Brown -- all rights reservedEditor’s note: Inspired by our recent mojito post and his Kentucky-bred husband’s birthday this week, Sean returns to Drink of the Week guest-bartender duties. By featuring this classic, I think it’s safe to say that he’s absolved of any trauma inflicted by his last stint behind the bar. [wink]


I don’t remember just how I started
I only know that we should have parted
I stole a kiss, and then another
I didn’t mean to take it further
One mint julep was the cause of it all

– “One Mint Julep,” Rudy Toombs

Few cocktails are as storied, as fraught with history and tradition in America, as the mint julep. The very word “julep” evokes a paradoxical domestic exoticism: nostalgic visions of the Old South, of white-bearded men in linen suits coddling dogs named Belvedere. But when was the last time you ordered one in a bar?

Somehow, despite its technical similarities to the fashionable mojito, juleps have yet to catch on as a hipster sipper. Perhaps bourbon’s star has not yet risen as the booze of choice in the way that rye, gin and even cachaça have. (Mind you, bourbon is always in vogue at our household.) Maybe its Southern connotations render it undesirable for the too-cool-for-school crowd. Or could it be the special glassware?

Whatever the case, I am here to tell you that nothing is more refreshing than an ice-cold mint julep, condensation sweating down its sides, on a hot, muggy day. Heck, even on a foggy summer’s day here in San Francisco, they’re downright delish.

And then there’s those cups. While you don’t absolutely need julep cups, they do serve a practical purpose beyond merely being stylish and sophisticated (not that those are not reasons enough to use them). Optimally made from sterling silver, the julep cups’ metal sides chill quickly and help keep your drink cool as a cucumber. And let’s face it — the very sight of condensation on the side of the cup makes your mouth water in Pavlovian anticipation.

Like many Southern things — biscuits, fried chicken — mint juleps are simple enough, requiring few ingredients but also a light hand. Though it’s nothing more than mint, sugar, water and bourbon, balance is key. You don’t want a drink that’s too cloyingly sweet, chewing-gum minty or Molotov-cocktail strong. None of those things is particularly refreshing.

Like the mojito, the julep begins with a muddle, and this is where things begin to get complicated. Some recipes call for granulated sugar, others powdered sugar, others still simple syrup. Most recommend muddling the mint first and letting it steep for a few minutes. Yet Robert Duvall as the julep-sipping Captain in Thank You For Smoking extolled the virtues of crushing the mint on the ice.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a busy man. I’m not going to take the time to pluck only the most nubile leaves, to mill my sugar to the right grain or to hand-chisel my ice to a perfect consistency. I prefer to keep things simple — as in simple syrup. (Good thing I have a bunch on hand.)

Just muddle the mint in the syrup, cover with crushed ice and pour the bourbon over. Stir until well chilled, and then sip with an audibly refreshed “ah!”

But if all this is just too rich for your blood, you can still enjoy a proper julep at my new favorite watering hole, The Alembic. They feature the mint julep in their J Peterman-esque menu of cocktails old and new, and they serve it in a proper julep cup and everything. Just one mint julep is guaranteed to inspire spontaneous conversation from your neighbors. And who knows where it could go from there?

I do declare, I believe I’m getting the vapors!

(c)2007 AEC  ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC  ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC *all rights reserved*(c)2007 AEC  ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 Sean Timberlake + DPaul Brown -- all rights reserved

Mint Julep
Several fresh mint leaves, preferably organic, plus sprigs for garnish
3/4 oz simple syrup
2 oz bourbon
crushed ice
club soda (optional)

Place mint leaves in the bottom of a julep cup and add the simple syrup. Muddle the mint leaves just enough to bruise them all over — you don’t want to crush them into a paste, just to release their minty goodness. Let stand for a minute or two to steep. Fill the cup with crushed ice. Pour the bourbon over the ice. Stir to combine and chill, until the cup is good and cold. If there’s room in the cup and you are so inclined, feel free to add a splash of club to lighten it up. Garnish with mint sprig.

If you want to make juleps for a crowd, muddling is too time-consuming. You can make a whole batch of mint-infused simple syrup by steeping a combination of fresh mint and mint tea bags in your syrup for a few minutes, then straining it well, squeezing the mint and teabags to release the maximum mint flavor. Pour the cocktail with the same proportions, minus the muddled mint.

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Trackback by Hedonia

Mint julep poached peaches…

Once again, I am guest-blogging over at Married …with Dinner for another installment of their Drink of the Week feature. This time I am discussing a drink I absolutely adore, the mint julep. As an ice-cold beverage, the julep is…

Posted on 07.27.07 at 9:04AM

Comment by Jonathan

What bourbon would you recommend? Makers Mark always catches my eye… but I’m more of a rum/tequila man (mojito is what jives well with me).

Posted on 07.27.07 at 1:29PM

Comment by Anita

I personally find the Maker’s to be a bit sweet for my taste. From the photo, it looks like Sean uses Knob Creek. We like that, too, or else the van Winkle, if we’re feeling vurry fancy.

Posted on 07.27.07 at 2:18PM

Comment by Sean

I’m with Anita — I’d go with a dryer bourbon. We do use Knob Creek as our house bourbon, and we’re also fond of Eagle Rare and Woodford’s Reserve. Makers is good in a manhattan, as it plays well with the cherry notes.

Posted on 07.27.07 at 3:09PM

Comment by Ari (Baking and Books)

I just discovered your blog through Tastespotting and I really love it. Mint Juleps have been on my drinks to try list for some time now… perhaps tonight is the night!

Posted on 07.29.07 at 1:13PM

Pingback by Intoxicated Zodiac Blog » a venusian party for lovers - mint sauce tofu & mojitos

[...] mint is ruled by none other than the planet of love and kisses, venus. you’ll want to have plenty on hand when she’s in your chart as there’s a strong likelihood you’ll be gettin lucky – keep that breath fresh! such a pleasant & fragrant aroma must belong to the intoxicating & aphrodisiacal planet of venus. VENUS, as in APHRODITE, as in APHRODISIAC. [...]

Posted on 10.15.07 at 2:42PM

Comment by Eric

Hmm. I like this post, but I have to point out the error in the idea expressed in the sentence: “Optimally made from sterling silver, the julep cups’ metal sides chill quickly and help keep your drink cool as a cucumber.”

In fact, the metal glass is conductive of heat, so it will actually make your drink warm up faster than an insulating cup would. Think of a thermos (or for contrast, remember that we construct heat sinks out of metal)

Posted on 05.14.08 at 12:07PM

Comment by Tom

The silver/pewter cup is a Southern thing, you wouldn’t understand. It is the look and feel of the condensation on the metal. You hold the cup by the rim or base and drink through a straw cut just a bit taller than the cup. This helps get your nose down in the mint. Rebel Yell for mixin’….Makers Mark for sippin’.
Cheers ya’ll

Posted on 08.17.08 at 2:43PM

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