Welcome to Imbibe Magazine's between-issues look at liquid culture with drink recipes, news and more. From coffee to cocktails, Imbibe celebrates your world in a glass.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Making a Mint Julep

Mint juleps are one of those cocktails that evoke strong opinions—everyone you talk to will insist their way’s the best. Personal variations on recipes can be great, but this being Derby Day, we do have some simple do's and don'ts for enjoying the traditional Kentucky Derby cocktail.

- Use fresh mint. Accept no substitutes. Since mint grows well (in some cases, aggressively) in most regions, it should be easy to find.
- Use coarsely crushed ice. Many blenders will do the trick in a few seconds (drain any water and re-freeze crushed ice for about a half hour for best results), or a try a vintage ice-crusher.
- Use the right glassware. If you don’t have the customary stainless steel julep cups, use a highball glass.
- Use a high-quality bourbon; it will make a huge difference in the flavor.

- Use whole ice cubes. This bears repeating. Juleps are all about the crushed ice, so do it right!
- Muddle the mint beyond recognition. Gently bruise the mint to impart its fresh flavor.
- Use soda water; this is one of the easiest ways to ruin what may be intended to be a mint julep.

Like most recipes, mint juleps are all about the fine details. Here's an Imbibe-tested and approved recipe (isn't research fun?), adapted from Denise Gee’s book Southern Cocktails: Dixie Drinks, Party Potions and Classic Libations:

Mint Julep
6–7 fresh mint leaves
1 Tbsp. simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water, heated to dissolve, then cooled to room temperature)
2 oz. bourbon
Crushed ice
Tools: bar spoon
Glass: silver julep cup (or highball)
Garnish: mint sprig

Combine mint leaves, syrup and bourbon in a glass. Press the bar spoon into the mint to release its essence into the liquid. Fill the glass with ice. Gently press the spoon into the ice, shaking it to incorporate the mixture. Garnish.

We’d love to have bourbon historian Mike Veach, featured in our current issue weigh in, but we’re pretty sure he’s busy today. Enjoy, and feel free to chime in with your own julep tips!


aaron said...

I'll definitely keep this on file for next year. thanks!

Iain said...

Looks like a good recipe; I'll be sure to try it soon. No need to wait for the Derby to trot around again.

Building on one of your comments, though, most mints are invasive in many, if not all, parts of the US. Please don't plant mint outside unless you're sure it's not invasive in your area. It's not worth choking out the native plants when you can grow it easily inside or buy some at the store.

Eliza said...

I grow mint in a container and it works great.

nola said...

I had the worst mint julep recently, pretty much because the place making it did everything on your don't list: huge ice cubes, completely watery concoction, low-brow bourbon. Just dreadful. Next time I will be sure to ask all the right questions before I risk ordering this again in a bar or better yet, I'll just stick to making them at home!

Anonymous said...

so the question is, did you send it back?

nola said...

I'm sorry to say I didn't, even though everyone around me was insisting on it. If it happened again I would. I also forgot to mention a couple of other tragic touches: the drink came in a giant glass with a double wide straw. Now that's a classy mint julep.

Anonymous said...

A long time ago I read a Mint Julep recipe from one of the owners of Maker's Mark. Basically the same recipe except that you make mint infused simple syrup.

When making the simple syrup, let it cool until its still hot but not too hot (you can stick your finger in it). Add a hand full of mint leaves with stems removed. Let steep for a few hours to overnight in the refrigerator. Strain the mint leaves out and use.

I love this approach. It gives a stronger mint flavor (obviously very dependent on how much mint you add to the syrup and how much syrup you add)and eliminates the muddling. It also allows me to keep a bottle of mint flavored simple syrup for juleps at the drop of a hat.