Mint Juleps: Not Just For The Kentucky Derby
Whiskey has never been much of a spring/summer drink. When most people think of drinking in the sunny months, they don't want their cocktails to take on the characteristics of oak, charcoal, or caramel, but rather want to indulge in ice, bubbles, fruit, and freshness.
Which is why it's so odd that mint juleps, the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, tend to get thrown by the wayside in May, never to be seen again throughout the summer months. Sure, they require a bit more work than a beer or margarita, but no more than a mojito, a drink that's pretty much synonymous with outdoor warm weather festivities.
Depending on the recipe, juleps can call for some stuff that you might not have access too, like silver or copper tumblers, and ice that's crushed to an almost sno-cone consistency. Don't worry about that stuff. If you're throwing a high-brow party, perhaps you want to go as fancy as possible, but you'll be just fine with "ice" (as you define it), and any type of non-plastic cup. High ball, Collins, tumblers...they're all fine vessels.
To get the ice to a fine consistency, you don't need a pricey machine. You need a bag of ice and a hard service. You then beat the shit out of the bag against the hard surface until you've got crushed ice. Easy and fun.
As for the vessel, all that really matter is that it's frosty. The frostier the better. To get that frost, just stir. And stir and stir and stir your drink until the ice is on the outside of your glass as well as on the inside.
For the whole deal (taking shortcuts whenever you feel like it), try this Food Network recipe:
- 4 cups bourbon
- 2 bunches fresh spearmint
- 1 cup distilled water
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- Powdered sugar
To prepare mint extract, remove about 40 small mint leaves. Wash and place in a small bowl. Cover with 3 ounces bourbon. Allow the leaves to soak for 15 minutes. Then gather the leaves in paper toweling. Thoroughly wring the mint over the bowl of whisky. Dip the bundle again and repeat the process several times.
To prepare simple syrup, mix 1 cup of granulated sugar and 1 cup of distilled water in a small saucepan. Heat to dissolve sugar. Stir constantly so the sugar does not burn. Set aside to cool.
To prepare mint julep mixture, pour 3 1/2 cups of bourbon into a large glass bowl or glass pitcher. Add 1 cup of the simple syrup to the bourbon.
Now begin adding the mint extract 1 tablespoon at a time to the julep mixture. Each batch of mint extract is different, so you must taste and smell after each tablespoon is added. You are looking for a soft mint aroma and taste-generally about 3 tablespoons. When you think it's right, pour the whole mixture back into the empty liter bottle and refrigerate it for at least 24 hours to "marry" the flavors.
To serve the julep, fill each glass (preferably a silver mint julep cup) 1/2 full with shaved ice. Insert a spring of mint and then pack in more ice to about 1-inch over the top of the cup. Then, insert a straw that has been cut to 1-inch above the top of the cup so the nose is forced close to the mint when sipping the julep.
When frost forms on the cup, pour the refrigerated julep mixture over the ice and add a sprinkle of powdered sugar to the top of the ice. Serve immediately.