It is Derby week here in Louisville! That means horses, bourbon, and hats! Here at Make & Muddle, we have been drinking mint juleps since it was warm enough to sit on a porch somewhere. Often folks will run screaming the other directions from mint juleps, stating they are too sweet. Sweetness is a matter of recipe- we would love to convert non-believers to the rapture of a well made mint julep.
This is a super easy cocktail as it only has a few ingredients- so those ingredients need to be outstanding. For us this begins with the mint syrup. The mint syrup we use for mint juleps is an 1:1 ratio organic sugar base with a large handful of mint added and then removed from the heat. We like a 24 hour steep on our mint syrup so that there is an intense mint flavor since we will not be using a lot of the syrup. Organic sugar will give a slightly darker color to the syrup than traditional refined white sugar. We use organic sugar when we can for the clean flavor but also when we don’t need the syrup to necessarily be colorless. Here it isn’t affecting the appearance of the cocktail because we are using a brown liquor. In our previous blog and on our Make & Muddle YouTube channel we talked covered how to infuse simple syrups- including mint syrups. Check those out for more info.
Obviously we want Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey for our mint julep. There are too many options to even list here. Pick your favorite bourbon to use. We like 100 proof bourbons at Make & Muddle because we like the complex flavor the 100 proof gives to our juleps. Also, the cocktail will not become over-diluted as the crushed ice melts. If you have novice bourbon drinkers or are trying to do juleps all day, we would recommend a lower proof bourbon.
The next ingredient that is so critical in a mint julep is crushed ice. Crushed ice serves several purposes. The first is that it helps to frost the glass, which is the reason to use traditional julep cups. The other reason is that it helps to dilute the drink and open up the bourbon as you sip and keeps the cocktail super cold. The crushed ice should dome on top of the cup.
The final ingredient for the julep is fresh mint. Before you add the mint to the cocktail, you want to bruise the mint by clapping it in between your hands. This makes the mint more fragrant when you add it to the cocktail. You want to smell that wonderful fresh mint every time you take a sip of the cocktail. Be sure to also add a straw to the julep so that you can sip and still keep the crushed ice domed on top of the cup without spilling it all over your best clothes at the track.
.5 oz Mint SS
2 oz Kentucky Bourbon
Place crushed ice in julep cup. Add mint syrup and bourbon to cup and stir. Mound more crushed ice on top of the cup. Garnish with fresh mint and a cocktail straw.
The following excerpt is from a letter written by General S.B. Buckley, Jr. in 1937 when asked for his Mint Julep recipe by one General Connor. It is a wonderful tongue and cheek recipe of a Mint Julep and is absolutely one of my very favorite recipes I have ever read. It illustrates precisely the ritual and tradition involved with the mint julep- not to be trusted to “a novice, a statistician, nor a Yankee”. While we might not be gathering fresh mint from the streams here, we will certainly be taking the same care when we propose a worthy toast and sip the nectar of the gods.
A mint julep is not the product of a FORMULA. It is a CEREMONY and must be performed by a gentleman possessing a true sense of the artistic, a deep reverence for the ingredients and a proper appreciation of the occasion. It is a rite that must not be entrusted to a novice, a statistician, nor a Yankee. It is a heritage of the old South, an emblem of hospitality and a vehicle in which noble minds can travel together upon the flower-strewn paths of happy and congenial thought.
So far as the mere mechanics of the operation are concerned, the procedure, stripped of its ceremonial embellishments, can be described as follows:
Go to a spring where cool, crystal-clear water bubbles from under a bank of dew-washed ferns. In a consecrated vessel, dip up a little water at the source. Follow the stream through its banks of green moss and wildflowers until it broadens and trickles through beds of mint growing in aromatic profusion and waving softly in the summer breezes. Gather the sweetest and tenderest shoots and gently carry them home. Go to the sideboard and select a decanter of Kentucky Bourbon, distilled by a master hand, mellowed with age yet still vigorous and inspiring. An ancestral sugar bowl, a row of silver goblets, some spoons and some ice and you are ready to start.
In a canvas bag, pound twice as much ice as you think you will need. Make it fine as snow, keep it dry and do not allow it to degenerate into slush.
In each goblet, put a slightly heaping teaspoonful of granulated sugar, barely cover this with spring water and slightly bruise one mint leaf into this, leaving the spoon in the goblet. Then pour elixir from the decanter until the goblets are about one-fourth full. Fill the goblets with snowy ice, sprinkling in a small amount of sugar as you fill. Wipe the outsides of the goblets dry and embellish copiously with mint.
Then comes the important and delicate operation of frosting. By proper manipulation of the spoon, the ingredients are circulated and blended until Nature, wishing to take a further hand and add another of its beautiful phenomena, encrusts the whole in a glittering coat of white frost. Thus harmoniously blended by the deft touches of a skilled hand, you have a beverage eminently appropriate for honorable men and beautiful women.
When all is ready, assemble your guests on the porch or in the garden, where the aroma of the juleps will rise Heavenward and make the birds sing. Propose a worthy toast, raise the goblet to your lips, bury your nose in the mint, inhale a deep breath of its fragrance and sip the nectar of the gods.
Being overcome by thirst, I can write no further.
S.B. Buckner, Jr.