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Mint Juleps: A Summer Drink, For Spring - By Z

I wrote this a long time ago and made this drink even longer before that. I have a bit of a blog backlog. I only mention that because today is a day when I could really use one of these, but fresh mint and bourbon are so far away. I’d have to walk for nearly FIVE minutes or so. So, Fat Tire will have to be an acceptable subsitute.

I call this a mint julep, but purists might disagree. Mint juleps are one of those drinks that are so closely tied to a particular region that variations might be seen by some as blasphemous. Me? I’m a blasphemous type of guy so I feel free to mess around with the recipes of these refreshing concoctions.

The main change that I make is to use Iranian mint. Now, that’s not a technical term and I’m not sure exactly which species of mint it is, but I do know that it’s definitely not spearmint (mentha spicata), which is the type typically used in a mint julep. Now, you might say that this change doesn’t rise to the level of blasphemy, and you’d probably be right, but it does change the character of the drink quite a bit. The Iranian mint is typically a bit spicier and full flavored rather than overwhelmingly minty like spearmint usually is. I suppose it might be considered more of a peppermint (mentha piperita), but there is an earthiness to it that I don’t find in most mint I buy in the store.

This drink is most appropriate for the summer due to its rather refreshing nature, but my friends and I seem to make it every time I go to my parent’s place. This is probably due to the huge patch of mint growing in front of their house and, of course, my friends and my undying love for good bourbon.

I may be a low-level blasphemer, but I wouldn’t go so far as to make mint juleps with anything but Kentucky bourbon. Speaking of which, the bourbon I used was Bulleit bourbon which I recently tried for the first time and which quickly moved to the top of my bourbon list. It stood up quite well to the strong flavors of the mint.

Bryan harvesting mint

Here’s an interesting fact that I learned on a field trip to the Marin Headlands in the 3rd grade: You can always tell mint by its square stems. We were taught this in order to identify and eat wild mint. I might be wrong (and I hope I am), but I doubt they teach kids how to eat wild plants any more for fear of lawsuits.

Note: I am in no way advocating you to eat wild plants based solely on my advice. I’ll think you’re super cool, but I officially absolve myself of any liability.

Add mint and sugar, then ice cubes, then bourbon, then more bourbon, then mix.

You’ll notice that we use a lot of ice and no water. I prefer to allow the ice to melt to provide the water that is typically used in a mint julep. This means you get slightly minty bourbon for a bit until the true mint julep character emerges. Oh, and blasphemy upon blasphemy, we used brown sugar. As long as it has dissolved fully so that there’s no graininess, I prefer it to powdered sugar. That hint of molasses-y flavor seems to fit the drink.

Mint Juleps

Mint and whiskey? Yes please!

  • Bourbon - The most important part of this drink. I’ve never met a bourbon I didn’t like… yes, I even like Wild Turkey. From Jim Beam to Maker’s Mark, Russell’s Reserve (made by Wild Turkey, I believe) to Bulleit, pick your poison wisely, because it’s the smoky foundation for this entire drink.
  • Mint – Whatever you do, make sure it’s fresh and it smells strong. For a traditional drink, use spearmint, but if you’re feeling adventurous, try peppermint. Better yet, have a tasting party. Best yet, have a tasting party and invite me.
  • Sugar - Traditionally, you would use powdered sugar, but I’ve preferred brown sugar for quite some time now. I’ve even used maple syrup before.
  • Ice – I’ve seen mint juleps served with crushed ice quite a bit, but I don’t like my drinks to get too watery. If you use solid ice cubes (or 1/2 ellipsoids as seen above), you have a slower melting rate.

Muddle your mint with your sugar. The rule of thumb I use for proportions is enough mint leaves to cover the bottom of the glass so you can’t see it at all (about 2-3 layers of leaves usually) and then a thin layer of sugar over the leaves so that every leaf on top is sprinkled with sugar. Muddling can be done with a muddler (which is basically a big stick) or, as seen above, a spoon. You just want to crush the leaves with the sugar a bit to release the oils in the mint. You don’t want a mint sugar paste here, just crushed leaves. If you decide to veer from the traditional path and not use powdered sugar, the sugar will probably act as an abrasive and help with this process.

Add ice so that it nearly fills up your glass. You can do a bit more muddling here if you have crushed ice, but it’s not strictly necessary.

Pour bourbon so that it fills the glass. You’re going to want to mix it a little bit more, in case the mint has stuck to the bottom of the glass.

Garnish with more mint. This isn’t just to look pretty… the smell of the mint as you lift the glass to your lips enhances the taste of the drink. Plus, I eat the garnish.

On that note, I usually drink mint juleps with a spoon so I can mix the drink and eat the minty sugary bourbony goodness at the bottom.

One Comment

  1. Harold wrote:

    What if you freeze mint in ice cubes? And use a spoon made of compressed mint?

    Saturday, May 1, 2010 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

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