Mint juleps need to be let out of the barn more often. Your favorite bourbon, sugar, mint, and lots of crushed ice make this cocktail suitable even on non-Derby weekends.
Many people think of the mint julep as a spring or summer drink, associated in particular with the Kentucky Derby. But the brightness of the mint with the warmth of the bourbon is just as appropriate in the fall and winter. The preferred serving vessel is the traditional pewter or silver mint julep cup, but a double old-fashioned glass is a good substitute.
We grow julep mint, a variety developed just for this iconic Southern cocktail, in the herb garden; it’s fragrant, delicious, easy to grow, and thrives in the Georgia climate. You can certainly use fresh mint from the farmers’ market, but mint is a great plant to grow at home, even for the beginning gardener. It’s almost impossible to kill!–Anne Stiles Quatrano
HOW DO YOU MUDDLE A DRINK?
The biggest thing to remember here is that muddling doesn’t involve tearing. You want to release the oils, not prepare your mint for the compost. Hold the muddler (or wooden spoon) in your dominant hand and the glass in your other hand. Gently apply pressure and slowly twist your wrist, repeat 2 or 3 times. That’s it.
- Julep cup (optional)
- Silver julep spoon or plain old straw
- 6 mint leaves
- 1 tablespoon granulated superfine sugar (or just blitz granulated sugar in a blender until finely ground but not powdery), or turbinado sugar
- 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) cold water
- Ice preferably crushed
- 2 1/2 ounces (5 tablespoons) bourbon
- Use a muddler to crush the mint leaves and sugar together in the bottom of a silver julep cup or tall glass. Add the water and stir until the sugar dissolves. (Superfine sugar will dissolve the quickest, granulated sugar may take a little extra stirring and patience, and turbinado sugar may result in a lovely caramel flavor but with a few undissolved crystals.)
Recipe Testers' Reviews
On the coldest day of the year--the coldest day of many years--I made a mint julep for the first time. My reckoning was that the bourbon, even over ice, would be a warming addition to the evening (it was.) I pulled out the cocktail muddler I inherited from my father, which rarely gets used, and I muddled the mint leaves and sugar.
I used turbinado sugar instead of plain granulated. The recipe said that I could, and I hardly ever find a reason to use my stash of the stuff, so I did. I think I did a fine job on the mint part, as I could smell the aroma of mint in my kitchen even while the leaves remained intact. I don’t think I did as good a job with the sugar, as crunchy sugar crystals made their way up through the straw as the drink was consumed. The straw was a beautiful bent glass one that I inherited from who-knows-where and which I've never had an opportunity to use—at least not one that seemed worth dirtying it. This was an appropriate opportunity.
Apart from some crunchy sugar (granulated would surely dissolve more effectively, and superfine would be even better), this was a fine and satisfying drink, even on a single-digit day. My bottle of single-barrel Kentucky bourbon, which is rarely touched, is now down by 2 1/2 ounces. Although I might wait until Derby Weekend to make another mint julep, I'll surely be using it for this purpose again.
For some reason, bourbon has been my drink of choice this winter. I've been trying various cocktails and finally decided that I needed to add the mint julep recipe to my long list of drinks. I always associate it with the derby and springtime, but to me, bourbon is somewhat warming and seems appropriate for winter.
I've tasted a mint julep a couple of times before, and had neutral feelings about it. The tastes that I've had were always a variation that someone thought was an "improvement" on the original. They weren't bad but didn't leave me wanting more. They usually involved cutting back on the sugar, adding too much sugar, or adding too much bourbon in relation to the other ingredients. After making this and enjoying every last drop, I now know what people have been raving about!
I recently read that even good "sipping" whiskey needs a little water or ice to bring out the best in it. I think this drink does that very well. The flavor of the good bourbon that I used still shines through, but is nicely enhanced by the mint, sugar, water, and ice. This will be on the Derby Day party menu this year.
Originally published May 1, 2014