There are a number of days on the calendar when the average American drinker decides to forgo his usual celebratory beverage routine of “open bottle, pour contents,” and dabble instead in the art of what is known, in current parlance, as mixology. With one of these days quickly approaching I would like to help you prepare by explaining the subtleties of the Mint Julep.
The Julep most of us drink today owes its popularity to The Kentucky Derby, where no self-respecting Kentuckian would be caught dead drinking anything other than the state’s native liquor, Bourbon. The fact is that there are many variations that date back further than the Bourbon-fueled drink we all know and love. These include rye, Cognac, and even rum, depending on the geographical location of the preparation and what liquor was most readily available. What they all have in common is an instant cooling effect on a hot summer day. That, and the rather steep amount of booze in the glass.
So, if you are planning to host a Derby Day party, here is a recipe with some tips on making the perfect Mint Julep, adapted from Dave Wondrich’s recipe in Esquire. If you are planning on attending a party, make sure you have a cab company’s number programmed into your phone.
5 to 6 fresh mint leaves (the fresher the better)
1 teaspoon superfine (or powdered) sugar
3 ounces Bourbon
Place mint in a chilled glass or Julep cup (I like a double rocks glass). Sprinkle sugar over the leaves. Superfine or powdered sugar work to keep from pulverizing the mint. (Speaking of pulverizing, if you have a muddler with teeth on it, put that thing away. Get a nice, cheap muddler with a flat bottom for this operation. Overly aggressive muddling only serves to release the bitter flavors in the mint that will remain at bay with proper muddling procedure.) To muddle properly, place the muddler at the bottom of the glass, push down with moderate pressure and slightly twist your wrist. Do this 4 or 5 times, moving around the glass as you go. You should get a burst of mint with each twist.
Pack your glass with crushed ice. If you are only making a couple of drinks, put some ice cubes in a freezer bag, wrap with a dish towel and smack it with the muddler or a tenderizing mallet. For large parties get a bag of crushed ice. (Herrin Brothers on 36th Street has 40-pound bags for six bucks; totally worth it.)
Pour in the bourbon. In a simple drink like this the Bourbon matters. You don’t have to use your reserve of Pappy van Winkle, but something in the $30-a-bottle range will get you a fantastic result. Swirl the drink with a bar spoon or stir stick until the edge chills. Top with some more ice to refill the glass, garnish with a few extra mint leaves, and slide in a straw cut to a length that suits your glass.
Now sit back, put on a silly hat, and enjoy.