The Kentucky Derby is this Saturday, and many of those watching this historic event will be doing so with mint juleps in hand. Sounds like the perfect time to jot down a couple of notes about this classic American cocktail.
The mint julep is another of those drinks shrouded in mystery, so in an effort to clear up some of the confusion (and possibly contribute to it) I’m going to offer up some of my ideas about what makes a spectacular drink, based on my knowledge and my palate. Feel free to take or leave the following advice as you will.
Okay. Some people are going to tell you to infuse either simple syrup or bourbon with mint. Most arguments are for ease-of-use, and that’s certainly going to be the case when you’re making 500 of them. But if you’re making a mint julep at home or for a single customer, there’s really nothing easier than measuring out a little simple syrup and quickly pressing a few sprigs of fresh mint. It’s fast, it’s the freshest method possible, and next weekend you’ll be able to make yourself a whiskey sour that doesn’t taste like old mint.
You’ll hear that the perfect mint julep is straight bourbon on the rocks, garnished with a sprig of mint. You’ll also hear that the perfect martini is merely cold gin garnished with olives. Let’s discard both of these ideas, as neither is a proper cocktail but rather cold alcohol with garnish.
What we’re looking for in a mint julep, as in any cocktail, is the perfect balance of several flavors. In an ideal mint julep, the alcoholic punch and rich caramel notes of bourbon should be set against the delicate bitterness and spicy herbal aromas of fresh mint. There’s your base. To carry these flavors further down the palate (and open up a few undiscovered notes), we’re going to add a touch of sugar. And to present this in a palatable fashion, we’re going to cool the whole mixture with crushed ice. The crushed ice is going to bring more water to the fire than cubes will, and you’ll cool some of that heat from the bourbon and the mint.
To help strengthen my point of view, I offer three very different videos. First, this one from the Small Screen Network illustrates how to put together a mint julep with Robert Hess’ usual technical precision.
Second, Chris McMillian waxes poetic about this great American gift to the world of cocktails and builds the drink with the elegance and sophistication that are his hallmarks:
Finally, for those of you who haven’t participated in this thread, here’s a brilliant rendition of everything you shouldn’t do when making a mint julep (save for adding the Woodford Reserve):
Yeah, I thought that was pretty funny, too.
Anyway, to wrap things up, a friend was asking where she could find some mint julep cups. I looked around and found this real pewter cup that looks great for $45, or this KegWorks guy that look like it’ll get the job done for $18.
Happy Derby Day, everyone.