It's Derby! Make a Mint Julep!
Anyone who has ever been around me during Derby Week knows that I like to preach the gospel of the Mint Julep. A lot of people are turned off by the premade stuff they sling at the track the tastes a little too sweet (okay maybe a lot) and a little too artificial. If you take the time to build one of these from the ground up, you won't be disappointed. This is a fun drink to make and the presentation is as beautiful as it is ubiquitous.
A couple of friends asked me to share my recipe (method), so I thought I'd share what I gave them with the tens of people who might read this blog.
Building a Mint Julep is basically making an Old Fashioned into a Sno-Cone but swapping out the bitters for mint. Make sense? No? Fine! I'll give you the directions.
Start with a few fresh mint leaves - 5 or 6 - and rub them around the inside of your julep cup. If you're going through this much trouble for a drink, you damn well better be using a metal cup. Pewter or stainless steel will do, but if you've got a fancy silver one, you might as well break it out. Don't be shy here, really rub the leaves around in there to get the flavor out. Also, don't be too rough as to "bruise" the mint. Basically, not too hard and not too soft. Some people will say that you should discard the mint at this point. I don't agree with those people. Leave the leaves in the bottom of the cup.
Now it's time for the most important part. The Ice. If you've got a refrigerator that spits out crushed ice, it isn't crushed enough, but it's a good place to start. If not, you've got a little more work at this stage. The "traditional" method involves putting the ice in a canvas bag and banging the shit out of it with a wooden hammer. You can also put it in a blender. Either way, you want fine crushed ice. Again, think Sno-Cone. Once you've got enough to fill the cup and then some, it's time to start building the drink.
Fill the julep cup mostly with your crushed ice, and add 2 ounces of strong bourbon over the ice. I prefer something 100 proof or higher here, but use your best judgment. Don't skimp on the bourbon. No reason to bust out the Pappy, but since this makes up the vast majority of the drink, use something you like the taste of by itself. The last ingredient is double strong simple syrup. This is made by dissolving 2 parts sugar in 1 part water. The easiest way to do this is over the stove, but not quite at a boil. Let it cool and keep it for drinks. Add somewhere between 0.25 and 0.75 ounces of this on top of the bourbon and ice. This part is "to taste". Basically, if you're making the drink for someone who isn't used to strong cocktails, err high on the sugar. Remember - you can always add more sugar, but you can't take it out.
All of the heavy lifting is done at this point, and the rest is all about the presentation. Take another handful of ice - remember I told you to have more than a cup full - and pack it down on top of the drink. Use your hands to form a "dome" of ice. Take a generous sprig of mint and push it down into the drink. This looks nice, but the real reason to do this is for the aroma to be close to your nose when you take a drink. Cut a straw down so it comes just out of the top of the ice and enjoy!
If you aren't inspired to make a fresh julep yet, watch this video. The whole thing is good, but it gets really great about 4:20 in.