Springtime brings with it warmer weather and for me, conjures images of Mint Juleps. Mind you, I certainly don’t wait for Spring to imbibe in the occasional julep. They can make any weekend afternoon better, but they taste best this time of year.
What do we know about the Mint Julep’s history? Most likely, the term “julep” comes from the Persian word “gulab” or Arabic “julab”, which is literally a mixture of botanically infused sweetened water. At some point, the julep began to refer to medicinal concoctions of herbs and spirits. Think of the world’s most famous nanny adding “a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down” in a much more delightful way.
The julep made its way eventually to the southern United States. Exactly when we do not know, but we are certain that we made it our own, applying America’s native spirit to the drink. The cocktail came into favor due to Kentucky Senator, Henry Clay, who introduced the mint julep to bars in Washington D.C. sometime in the early 1800’s. The rest is history.
History lessons are fun, but cocktails are more so. In order to achieve the best version of the Mint Julep there’s a few things I recommend.
First, the bourbon. Picking the right bourbon is a critical step. I choose one with a good bit of spice for some added yin/yang to the julep’s sweetness. Even though the Mint Julep is a spirit-forward cocktail I refrain from using an ultra-premium bottle. There are a great many products available in the $25-35 range without sacrificing anything. Three that I’ve listed below in the recipe will do the trick very well, but feel free to use whatever bourbon you have at the ready.
Next, the mint. I prefer red-stem spearmint for the proper flavor. Peppermint is far too strong and astringent. It may help to think of the difference between peppermint and spearmint gum, the latter is softer and gentler. If purchasing mint in your local supermarket, rest assured you will be rewarded with the correct variety. If plucking sprigs from your backyard, try a sample and make sure it is not too acrid or astringent.
Finally, the ice. In a drink with 3-4 ingredients, each one plays a key role. If you don’t wish to go through the trouble of cracking your own ice into a powdery snow cone consistency, which is tedious and difficult, the cracked ice from your freezer door should do the trick. You could also pick up the pellets from the drive-through fast food joint in a pinch. In general, the finer the ice the better.
Let’s make a Mint Julep….
Perfect Mint Julep Recipe: I consider this the classic and quintessential Mint Julep recipe, only ramped up a little with a mint simple syrup. If you don’t wish to make your own syrup, no problem, just swap it out with store-bought.
- 3/4-ounce Mint Simple Syrup (Recipe Follows)
- 3-4 mint leaves
- 3 ounces bourbon (Three faves: 1792, Four Roses Small Batch, and Four Roses Yellow Label for a less boozy cocktail)
- Chipped or crushed Ice
- Plastic straws cut just an inch or two longer than the serving glass
- Mint sprigs for garnish
Pour Mint Simple Syrup in cocktail glass of choice (Silver/Pewter Mint Julep cup, Double Old Fashioned, or Squat cocktail glass).
Add mint leaves, and “muddle” gently with a muddler or wooden spoon for 5-10 seconds until glass is fragrant with Mint oils. Be careful not to overly smash and break up the mint. This brings our more acrid, bitter flavors.
Pour 3 ounces of bourbon over ice. Stir gently to incorporate mint and simple syrup from the bottom of the glass.
Pile on the ice - pack the chipped ice right to the top of the glass.
Garnish with mint springs and a straw for easy sipping. Enjoy!
Mint Simple Syrup Recipe: Of course, regular simple syrup works beautifully, but if you have the time, this mint infused simple syrup brings additional depth to the cocktail.
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup water
- 10 mint leaves plus stems
- Place sugar and water in a heavy-duty saucepan,
- Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, then turn off the heat.
- Add mint leaves off heat and allow to steep until syrup is cool (room temperature).
- As soon as mint syrup cools to room temperature it is ready to use for cocktail making.
- Store in the fridge to use as needed.
Ingredients available at Moon Wine & Spirits
6910 Moores Lane, Brentwood, TN 37027.
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