Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: The Mint Julep

Yes, it's long past Derby Day, but don't be silly. The Mint Julep is appropriate anytime it's over 65 degrees (and in Los Angeles, that's most of the year). You just can't go wrong with mint and Bourbon.


Simple syrup
Crushed ice

How to Make a Mint Julep

As usual, I will pass this task off to the experts. For Morganthaler on Mint Julep, see here and here.

For perfect technique plus poetic waxings, you absolutely must watch Chris McMillian in what may be the finest example of cocktail making anywhere:

Both Morganthaler and McMillian make the traditional Mint Julep. I made the same one (yes I used a glass instead of the traditional silver cup - so shoot me). The trick is not to be stingy with the mint. Throw five or six good sized sprigs down there and muddle gently-- watch the McMillian video for technique. Mint is strong, so gentle muddling will get you all the flavor you need.

I don't happen to have a giant Thor-like mallet like McMillian, so I put my ice in a Ziplock bag and crush it with a rolling pin. It works just fine. Then, pour those liquid ingredients over the ice and serve with a straw. Mmmmmm.

The Party Julep

Let's face it, the Julep is a party drink and the muddle mint in every glass technique just ain't gonna' cut it for your backyard BBQ. So here is my full proof party Julep recipe. Each batch is good for about six or seven good sized servings.

An hour or two ahead of service time: Put one bunch of mint in a pitcher. Cover with four cups boiling water and add 1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar, depending on how sweet you want it. Let steep for 15-20 minutes until there is a nice minty taste, then remove the mint and refrigerate.

You have now made a sweetened mint tea which will serve as your all purpose Julep mixer. Just add crushed ice and the appropriate amount of Bourbon (or not, for the kids) and serve.

This is a less sophisticated drink than the muddled Bourbon version, and you will get less Bourbon/mint interaction out of it, so choose your Bourbon accordingly. You will, however, have happy, happy guests.

The Rye Julep

When I make Juleps I usually use a good mid-range Bourbon. Woodford Reserve is my favorite Julep Bourbon, but Knob Creek, Bulleit or Maker's will do just fine.

The other two cocktails we've reviewed, the Sazerac and the Manhattan, were originally rye drinks to which bourbon is now often added (especially in the case of the Manhattan), so I wondered what would happen if we added rye to a Bourbon drink.

Rye and Bourbon, while related by ingredients corn and rye, are very different spirits. Where Bourbon is sweet, rye is spicy. But spice and mint is a combination that makes sense, so here we go again...

I used Russell's Reserve Rye for my Julep, a good mid-level rye made by Wild Turkey. The Rye Julep worked well. The spice of the rye was, indeed, a good counterpoint to the mint. The difference was actually pretty subtle, which goes to the dominance of the mint in this drink, as well as the sweetness of Russell's compared to some ryes, but I liked that little taste of rye spice.

In Conclusion

This ends our series on the classic whiskey cocktail. I've had fun playing mixologist for the past month, so I promise that Whiskey Wednesday will return to the subject with more classic cocktails and unorthodox interpretations (I mean you, JW Blue Old Fashioned).

Next Wednesday: The Mysterious Finlaggan
And coming soon: Cheap Scotch and More Bourbon

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