Sunday, 1 May 2011

Classic Cocktail of The Month: Mint Julep

May's classic cocktail of the month has inspired books, poems, a film title and bartenders.  The drink it's self pre-dates cocktails as we know them and thousands of them are made every year on the first saturday in May at The Kentucky Derby in Louisville.  This month's highlighted cocktail is of course the Mint Julep.  The history of this classic is as muddy and dark as most Mint Juleps you'll receive when ordered at a majority of bars.  When searching for historical facts about this southern favorite, you find most articles will somewhere mention a concoction of water and rose petals refereed to as a "Gulab" which translates to "Rosewater" in arabic.  This medicinal blue print for today's Julep dates back centuries before bourbon and mint even first met.

It isn't until 1787 when the Julep is first documents as an alcoholic beverage by an "Anonymous Traveller" stating: "The Virginian rises in the morning, about six o'clock.  He drinks a julap, made of rum, water and sugar, but very strong."  Still no mint but as you can see we have the spirit and the sugar.  Sixteen years later a more accurate description of the Julep we imbibe on today was first defined in 1803 by John Davis in his book "Travels of Four Years and a Half in The United States of America"  The book told of "A dram of spirituous liquor that has mint steeped in it, taken by virginians of a morning."  The liquor in question would have been most likely rum and or brandy, which was at the time most popular by historical accounts.

Still, it would take nearly another fifty years for the mixture of bourbon, sugar and mint to be undeniably defined.  In 1850 Kentucky politician, Henry Clay wrote in his personal diary a detailed description of both the preparation and ingredients that would be the Mint Julep that we are familiar with today.
"The mint leaves, fresh and tender, should be pressed against a coin-silver goblet with the back of a silver spoon.  Only bruise the leaves gently and then remove them from the goblet.  Half fill with cracked ice.  Mellow bourbon, aged in oaken barrels, is poured from the jigger and allowed to slide slowly through the cracked ice.  In another receptacle, granulated sugar is slowly mixed into chilled limestone water to make a slivery mixture as smooth as some rare Egyptian oil, then poured on top of the ice.  While beads of moisture gather on the burnished exterior of the silver goblet, garnish the brim of the goblet with the choicest springs of mint."

As you can see above, Henry Clay's account of making the Mint Julep is near identical to that of the modern bartender.  The only difference being most bartenders will leave the mint in the cup with the additional ingredients.  As well, the Julep cup should be filled to the brim and above with crushed ice.

Mint Julep
- 3 oz Bourbon (I prefer Maker's Mark for my Julep)
- 0.5 - 0.75 oz Simple Syrup (to taste, it will depend on what bourbon you're using)
- 15 - 25 Mint Leaves

- Begin by placing mint in Julep cup and gently muddle
- Add simple syrup
- Add 1.5 oz bourbon
- Fill cup half full with crushed ice and churn mixer to bring some of mint leaves to the top
- Add remaining 1.5 oz of bourbon to Julep cup and repeat previous step
- Top with crushed ice, a massive mint sprig and a straw buried amongst the mint

Mint Julep

For my variation on the Mint Julep I wanted to pay tribute to another region of the world.  Like the Mint Julep embodies the south my Julep will symbolize France.

French Julep
- 1.5 oz VSOP Cognac
- 0.75 oz Fine Calvados
- 0.75 oz Grand Marnier
- 0.25 oz Rich simple Syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water)
- Peel of One Orange
- 6 - 8 Mint Leaves

- Begin by placing mint and orange peels in Julep cup and gently muddle
- Add simple syrup
- Add Cognac 
- Fill cup half full with crushed ice and churn mixer
- Add remaining 1.5 oz of liquor to Julep cup and repeat previous step
- Top with crushed ice, orange twist, a massive mint sprig and a straw

French Julep

And if two were not enough, here are a few of my favorite Julep variations.  One, dating back to 1839 and the other a classic here in Victoria by friend and fellow cocktail lover Shawn Soole.

Georgia Mint Julep (Circa 1839)
- 2 oz Cognac
- 1 oz Peach Brandy
- 0.25 oz Simple Syrup *
- 8 - 12 Mint leaves

- Follow same directions for Georgia Mint Julep as you would for the Mint Julep

* According to Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails By Ted Haigh the recipe calls for a teaspoon of sugar and a dash of water, so using simple syrup just takes one unnecessary step out of the equation.

Austrian Julep (Shawn Soole, Clive's Classic Lounge Circa 2010)
- 2 oz Maker's Mark Bourbon
- 0.5 oz Zirbenz Stone Pine Liqueur
- 0.33 oz Raspberry Syrup **
- 6 - 8 Mint Leaves

-Follow Same directions as all Previous Juleps
- Additionally, garnish fresh washed mint sprig with powders sugar

** 1 Cup water to 1 Cup Sugar over medium heat until all sugar has dissolved.  Let cool and add 1/2 cup of fresh raspberries.  Muddle raspberries completely then strain syrup through a fine mesh strainer.

Have a Julep you like to enjoy?  or maybe just a bourbon preference, post a comment and tell me what you'll be enjoying this coming Saturday on derby day.

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