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Mint Julep

Mint Julep Weather

Sun. Glorious sun! We had two days of bright warm spring sunshine this past weekend and it was wonderful. It was even more wonderful because those conditions can be so hard to come by in Portland, this time of year. That fact always seems to come home to me around Derby Day, the first Saturday in May.

Y'all ever tried a Mint Julep? Year after year, as Derby Day approaches, I dream of sipping a memorial Mint Julep on the veranda, uh... I mean deck... as I choose the horse I hope will win the Kentucky Derby. I picture a warm sunny afternoon, my skin glistening with the slightest perspiration as I enjoy the cool sensation of a frosted metal cup, its condensation sweating against my palm. I imagine that cup filled with chipped ice and good Kentucky bourbon, the scent of refreshing mint soothing my pale wintered senses, as I bask in the warm spring sunshine. Ahhhh!

More often than not, however, Derby Day turns out to be cold and rainy in Portland and I trade in my dreams of a frosty Mint Julep for a shot of Amaretto in a cup of hot coffee. But this past weekend was the stuff of my southern dreams! It was spring and the sunshine felt hot on my face and I wanted a Mint Julep, now!

Yes, last weekend the weather in Portland was close to perfect. It wasn't quite Derby Day and it didn't last, but I did make the most of it while it was here. I made my Mint Julep, and if by some sweet chance the first weekend of May is equally gorgeous, I'll be ready to make one then, too. But I won't bet on that. You can be sure I'll have some Amaretto on hand too!

Details, Details

Mint Juleps can exhibit the best of southern hospitality: simple ingredients, thoughtfully prepared and presented with attention to detail. The simple ingredients are bourbon whiskey, mint leaves, sugar and ice. The recipe is below. So, what are the details?

  • What should a julep be served in?
  • Must the cup be silver?
  • What if I don't own a commemorative Derby glass?
  • Is any glass okay?
  • What brand of bourbon whiskey is ideal?
  • Is it acceptable to use Tennessee or other whiskey?
  • Should water be added?
  • What type of water should be used? Branch water or club soda?
  • Should mint leaves be broken, crushed, muddled or added to the cup in pristine form?
  • What type of sugar is best? Granulated? Powdered? Simple syrup?
  • Must I have a proper muddler?
  • What is a proper muddler?
  • Will the back of a knife handle do?
There are no right answers here, yet these details are of great importance to a southern host and are the subject of much attention and often, great debate.

Over the years I have tried different approaches to these details. I have made Mint Juleps with granulated sugar and mint leaves muddled in the bottom of a metal cup and I have made them in commemorative Derby glasses with mint infused simple syrup. I have filled the glass with crushed ice or chipped ice and, I have to say that I have scarcely appreciated the difference. My brother describes it this way:

There are two main versions of mint julep I’ve run across. The “traditional” Mint Julep seems to be a formidable creation which is pretty much straight bourbon on ice scented with mint and maybe a dusting of powdered sugar. Something like, “Take a coin-silver, frosted Julep cup. Gently bruise one pristine leaf of mint and drop it into the bottom of the cup. Fill the cup with crushed ice. Add 100 proof bonded Kentucky Bourbon until within one-quarter inch of the rim. Deftly sprinkle a tiny modicum of powdered sugar on the rim. Garnish with a bouquet of fresh mint and serve immediately.” There are innumerable variations. Sometimes the rim is rubbed with a mint leaf. There is an insolvable feud between those who swear by steeping unbruised mint leaves only and by those who muddle them – bruising the leaf to release more essential oils. I’ve made up a few of these recipes for myself and a few brave friends.

The other mint julep is not the stuff of legend but, to my mind, a much more practical and enjoyable spring drink. My recipe is for such a Julep – more in the line of a long drink. It has 1 jigger of bourbon per 10 – 12 ounce glass, significant mint and sugar for a very noticeable minty taste to the drink, and water to reduce the octane and impact on the drinker. It is quite refreshing and appropriate for sociable Derby drinking with a group. Most of the juleps I’ve sampled in Kentucky were this more diluted, sociable variety.

Mint Julep

So here is my brother's version of a Mint Julep as printed in our Family Heirloom Cookbook. Other versions and commentary can be found at Married...with dinner and Best Bites. And for some interesting information on Whiskey check out this series on Accidental Hedonist about the Whiskey Book.

Here's the Mint Julep recipe as used for over 20 years worth of Kentucky Derby Parties.

Take a twelve ounce glass. (Coin Silver Julep cups are best, followed by plastic official Derby Souvenir cups but any cup will do.) Fill the cup with crushed ice. Add 4 teaspoons of Mint Julep Syrup (below) over the ice. Follow this with 1 ½ oz. of Kentucky Bourbon. (Never use Tennessee Whisky on Derby Day! A famous Kentuckian is reported to have said that anyone who made a mint julep with Tennessee Whisky was capable of putting a scorpion in a baby's crib.) Top off with branch water and stir vigorously. Garnish with a sprig of freshly picked mint.

Additional flourishes such as rubbing the rim of the cup with a mint leaf or placing the cup filled with ice in the freezer to get a good frosty coat on the outside can be done, but in the hurry of a big Derby Party I generally omit these niceties.

Mint Julep Syrup

To make one pint.

Take one cup of water and bring it to the boil. Reduce heat to moderate and add two cups of granulated sugar. Stir until completely dissolved. Then add approximately one cup of precleaned mint leaves (stems may be left on, but remove roots and any extraneous vegetable matter). Turn off the heat and let it sit for 15 minutes or so. The mint leaves will shrivel and release their oil into the syrup, turning it lightly greenish and fragrant. Remove the mint (surprisingly easy) and discard. Pour into clean glass jars through a sieve to filter out all the leftover little mint pieces. Cover and store refrigerated. Keeps for quite a long time.

Note: When I made these I cut the recipe for the mint syrup to ¼ cup water, ½ cup sugar and ¼ cup mint leaves picked fresh from my own garden.

Look for more Derby inspired recipes coming this month, Bourbon Vanilla Truffles and a great pie that must remain nameless....


Anonymous said...

Just wanted to let you know that your post is featured on BlogHer today! ~ AK

Lisa said...

Wow, thanks Alanna! I really enjoy your posts on BlogHer, helping all of us navigate the food blog world. Thanks for featuring this li'l ol' recipe in your latest post!