Welcome To Wonkette Happy Hour, With This Week's Cocktail, The Mint Julep!
Greetings, Wonketeers! I’m Hooper, your bartender. I’m trying to catch up on our summer cocktails. Derby season has come and gone, but we can still enjoy some mint juleps. Here’s the recipe.
1 ½ oz Old Grand Dad Bottled In Bond Bourbon
½ oz simple syrup
6-8 mint leaves
Place mint leaves in the bottom of your small shaker tin. Add syrup. Gently muddle the mint leaves. Add bourbon and a small scoop of ice. Whip shake until the ice is melted. Double strain into a julep glass filled to the rim with crushed ice. Mound additional ice on top of the cup. Garnish with several large sprigs of mint.
The julep is an old cocktail. We can find examples of julep-like drinks in the Arab world involving rose petals and water. The first mention of booze comes from Virginia, when a traveler mentions a “dram of spirituous liquor that has mint in it, taken by Virginians in the morning." That’s well before bourbon proper was invented. It’s very probable that the first American julep was made with brandy or rum. The mint julep became the official drink of the Kentucky Derby in 1939, and it’s been off to the races ever since.
Juleps aren’t really about bourbon. Even the mint is negotiable. The most important ingredient in a julep, by far, is the ice. A big mound of crushed ice in a silver cup, condensation dripping off the glass, on a blazing hot summer day — that’s what makes a julep a julep. To make a really good julep, you need as much crushed ice as you can get your hands on. That’s not easy to get at home. I’ve got some ideas on how to address that. But if you don’t have a Sno-Cone machine laying around, you might try something more along the lines of a mojito. Follow the julep recipe, but use ice cubes from the fridge and top with seltzer water. It’s not a “real” julep anymore, but it’s still a great summer cooler.
Let’s talk ingredients:
Old Grand Dad Bottled in Bond: Old Forester is the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby. Their 100 proof is terrific and affordable. I’d recommend it in a heartbeat. I’m using Old Grand Dad because I wanted something a little less sweet. The important thing here is to use 100 proof whiskey. The ice is going to dilute the drink considerably. You’ll need something that won’t vanish as you sip.
Simple syrup: I’ve seen some julep recipes that use powdered sugar. It’ll dissolve quickly, but the cornstarch in powdered sugar won’t do us any favors. Make some proper simple syrup: One cup white sugar, one cup water, heat until the sugar’s dissolved. I’ve got plans to use some of this stuff next week, so keep the leftovers in the fridge.
Mint: Use fresh. Use a lot. That nice little clamshell of mint you buy at the store is going to make you one drink at most. You only need five or six leaves of mint in the cocktail proper. But a big, fragrant bush of mint as a garnish is a must. If you’re growing mint in your backyard, this is a great way to use it up.
Ice: Lots of shaved or pebbled ice is crucial. A julep can be accurately described as a Slurpee for grownups. Raiding the local Sonic or Dairy Queen for ice is a solid option. The better the ice, the better your cocktail.
Technique: Be gentle when you muddle the mint leaves. You want to press down on them to break the leaves. You don’t want to make chopped salad here.
Whip-shake the cocktail instead of rocking the tumblers back and forth. Only use a small amount of ice and spin the tumblers in a small tight circle in your hands. Imagine a stubborn pair of wet blue jeans thumping in the washing machine on spin cycle. That’s how the ice should behave in your shaking tins. You’ll get more dilution for the bourbon and syrup.
When you’re preparing the mint garnish for the drink, arrange it into a pretty little shrub. Then smack the leaves of this garnish against the bar, once, hard. The mint leaves will release oil and become more fragrant.
The NA version of this cocktail isn’t too hard. You can simply omit the bourbon and you’ll have a tasty mint Slurpee. Some fresh lemonade would be great too. As long as it’s ice cold and refreshing, it’s the perfect julep for you.
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