(In the time since I wrote this, I moved from Raleigh to Las Vegas. Thus the photos.)
Summers are hot in North Carolina. Normally the heat will make me think of tropical drinks. And we will take a turn or two here with Tiki drinks. But not today – when it gets this hot, not even a Goombay Smash will really cool me down.
When it gets this hot, I’m glad that mint grows wild in the South. Very wild. There is a bunch in my backyard (that I try – in vain – to keep from invading the lawn). But today I’m thankful I don’t have to run to the store to make a first-class Mint Julep.
And by Mint Julep I don’t mean a stuffy, pewter-cupped secret concoction that my Southern neighbors speak about in hushed tones and drink while wearing seersucker and pastel. I’m talking about an easy-to-make version that does the job just as well with a minimum of fuss. And who wants to fuss about on a day as hot as today?
The job in question is to both cool you down and get you tipsy enough that you don’t care that you’re still too hot. Mint Juleps do this with a combination of strong liquor, sugar, and fresh herb to make the drink seem more refreshing than it should be.
In a way, this makes it the Southern cousin of the Southside, the summers-on-Long-Island, mint-tinged gin cocktail we’ll cover in a future post. I’m not sure which cousin is older, but I’ve spent enough time day-drinking in the South to put my money on the Julep.
3 oz Bourbon or Rye Whiskey
Fill a well-chilled highball glass with crushed or shaved ice. Mix ingredients above in shaker and shake well to properly muddle the mint.
Strain into the prepared highball glass. Top with club soda, stir and garnish with a small sprig of mint.
For starters use whatever bourbon you keep around. No need to waste your Basil Hayden’s on a Mint Julep or make a special trip to the liquor store. Bulleit is my current favorite daily bourbon, but Jim Beam Rye will make a good Mint Julep – some would say a more authentic one – at a fraction of the price.
A muddler is an essential tool to have in your bar and if you have one, certainly use it. But unlike in, say, an Old Fashioned, I don’t see an absolute need for it in this case. The shaking needed to chill the booze muddles the mint sufficiently.
Experiment with the amount of mint. My wife likes a lot of mint flavor so with hers I use a full 10 leaves and sometimes even lightly muddle them before shaking. I prefer the mint a little more attenuated. Also, every mint leaf is a different size. Play with it.
Also, I tend to like my Juleps drier, but if you prefer them sweeter, add more sugar. Up to 1/2 oz of my 2:1 simple syrup (again, totally worth the work) will sweeten without changing the character of the drink.
Don’t forget: this is a strong drink and a little ice dilution isn’t a bad thing. When I say “well shaken” I mean shake it horizontally over your shoulder (channel your inner William Powell) until your fingers sting. Usually 50+ shakes.
Lastly, use as much or as little club soda as you like. I actually prefer none…just the dilution from the ice makes the best Mint Julep in my book.
Speaking of ice. While all drinks benefit from clear ice, in this cocktail it is more noticeable than others. If you have some, use it here, for both the shaking and the glass ice.
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