The Oregon mint julep

Welcome innocents.

Today as promised we will be making my first ever mint julep cocktail, a traditional summer drink comprised of bourbon, sugar, crushed ice and fresh mint leaves and reportedly consumed in great quantities at the Kentucky Derby which I’ve never witnessed although I love to wear hats.

So what’s a julep anyway? The word seems to have evolved from Persian for rosewater, and began as a syrupy drink to which medicine could be added.  Right.

Online research immediately revealed a lot of talk and opinions about mint julep recipes. While Roberta at Mulish recently suggested I should ‘muddle’ the mint with a hand-held potato(!) as a pestle, other advisors go berserk at the suggestion of muddling at all. Some say the mint leaves should be steeped in a sugar/water syrup. Or use no syrup and just stir some sugar into the drink with muddled leaves. Or put mint leaves–often spearmint leaves– in the bottom of the glass and then just pour the syrup over…

One guy says to hold the syrup, sugar and mint and just drink the bourbon.

After much grueling research, which may continue through the summer, here are some outcomes.

Big Bottom bourbonThe bourbon: Big Bottom Whiskey.

Do you find the name peculiar? (I did.)  This whiskey is made in Oregon (a long way from Kentucky) but here it’s all about local products and  small-scale business and also preserving ancient forests. (See the Big Bottom Whiskey excellent website for more about the forests.) Plus the guy at the liquor store was practically swooning about this award-winning whiskey and I’m a sucker for testimonials. So that’s my bourbon.

Now I am not a big drinker of spirits of this sort, being more a beer/wine/cider woman, but I must say this Big Bottom bourbon IS nice. Smooth but more complicated tasting than I expected.  Anyway I quite liked it off the sample spoon, unmixed with anything, which I took as a direct and good julep omen.

For the recipe I decided to go for the sugar/water syrup instead of just granulated sugar because unlike (maybe) you I am not afraid of mint plants but I do have deep sick irrational anxieties about undesolved sugar. And then I’m going for the mint leaves in the glass because I grow all this mint and I want to see it. And I’m thinking crush the leaves before you put them in.  To me ‘muddling’ is not a pretty word–‘crushing’ sounds more like a summer love and less like a terrible messy mistake so lets do that. Okay onward.

Secret Recipe for the Oregon mint julep:

-Put equal amounts of sugar and water in a kettle and heat until the sugar dissolves. (I used 1/4 cup of each.) Put this syrup in a cute little jar in the refrigerator to chill. (In the photo it’s amber colored from the organic sugar.)

-Put the glass(es) in the freezer. (Use silver tumblers to be athentic but I didn’t have time to steal any so we used 8 oz. glasses.)

-Sashay out to the garden and snip some peppermint sprigs, so you have 8 or 10 leaves for each glass.

-Take out some ice cubes and put them in a clean cotton bag and give it to Mr O (or somebody) to smack between a hammer and the anvil –unless you have an ice crusher machine which I don’t.

-Assemble everything for the photo op.

mint julep ingredients

I crushed the mint leaves in my hand and dropped them into the glasses, then poured 2 teaspoons of the syrup on the leaves. Then Mr O poured 2 ounces of the bourbon in and we topped it with the ice.

Oregon mint julep

I did stir. And then I added more ice, a mountain of frothy ice, a snowcone for grownups. As the ice melts there seems always to be a bit of whiskey still in there to flavor the drink, good till the end.

Conclusion: this would make all the difference on a hot afternoon in August–and it was still a party on a rainy evening in June.

PS: In 1952 a group called The Clovers recorded this song about the drink. I like it.


About linniew

Unpublished novelist seeks therapy in gardening. Westie assists.
This entry was posted in cooking, herbs and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to The Oregon mint julep

  1. Peter/Outlaw says:

    This is one of those things that I’ve always heard of but never tried. Your post makes me want to remedy that. Time to haul out the hoop skirts and hand held fans and brush up on phrases like, “My it’s warm out here on the verandah.” “Why Jedediah, it’s hotter than an hen in a wool blanket .” and “You’uns must join us here in the shade before all y’all pass out from the heat. It’s hotter than blue blazes over yonder!”

  2. kininvie says:

    I cannot tell you how sick at heart I am about the absence of the potato. Without that surprise ingredient, it seems to me you have little more than a mojito without the rum but with the bourbon. Maybe you will be brave enough to bring the potato into the mixture next time?
    Now, where on earth do you strange people get ‘muddled’= ‘crushed’ from. Could it be that your early pioneers were a little hard of hearing and misheard ‘puddled’, which I believe is what you do with clay or cast iron under circumstances of which I have no direct experience, but which I believe involves stirring stuff around – although I cannot tell if potatoes were involved.
    The Big Bottom whiskey sounds delicious. Just be careful to whom you give it to as a gift, to avoid possible offence

    • linniew says:

      Actually what I have is a Harvey Wallbanger without the orange juice or vodka or Galliano… Kininvie did you not read the part about the potato pestle? Really I am going to have to institute post-post quizzes. Or were you just disappointed that I didn’t chop potatoes into the glass? (Now that sounds awful.) As to muddled being translated to crushed, I will take full responsibility for that. It’s a word thing. And if they are different processes well I’m certain I will grasp that better following my degree in bartending which I intend to earn when I’m just a little older and need a new and exciting late-life career right after my time of returning to the seas as a pirate, which will of course come first.

      • kininvie says:

        Of course I read your post with the utmost attention to detail, as I always do (though Alberto’s outstripped me on the observation that the Big Bottom had become rather smaller). So, this question arose: why use a potato as a pestle when you could equally well use a pestle? And since there was no obvious answer, I concluded that something in the potato must add a je ne sais quoi to the finished product. But of course I won’t know whether this is the case unless you use the potato. Which you haven’t. Which is why I am heartsick, but also wonder whether you are not a little slapdash in your unwillingness to follow the proper process?

        • linniew says:

          I imagine that Roberta suggested a potato because she was lacking a pestle in her kitchen equipment, as am I, but apparently your cook/bartender is not. I must add that there is a suspicious je ne sais quoi to this continued potato heartsickness of yours Kininvie.

      • Being a bartender to pirates might be an exciting late life career choice. Oh, that’s not what you meant? Oh my chopper thingee the muddled button is two buttons to the left of crushed and two to the right of swirled.

        • linniew says:

          Actually being bartender on a pirate ship sounds perfect Rachelle. So then I would get the rum and the parrot and maybe not have to carry a heavy sword…

          I used to have one of those machines with all the buttons. Someone must have made a career out of making up new names for each teensy increase in speed. Now I have an old blender that just has ‘high’ and ‘low’–

  3. Alberto says:

    Sashay? I can’t believe you have an actual word to say ‘walk in an ostentatious yet casual manner, typically with exaggerated movements of hips and shoulders’. Thank you for teaching me every time some new word, words that really will improve my English and I’m looking forward to using this word.
    The drink sounds pretty good, I agree with you about crushing the mint with your hands rather than squashing it. But there is something not completely clear about the first picture of the big bottomed bourbon… I wonder why the bottle was ALREADY half empty before you made mint julep… What? Ah, ok, it was half full indeed…… 😉

    • linniew says:

      Well to be quite honest with you dear Alberto I rarely incorporate ‘sashay’ into conversations but it has a Deep South flavor so I tossed it in. I’m glad you will have it at the ready for future use around Venice. And boy are you observant. Yes the final photos were the second session of mixing and really I expected someone would notice that dropped level of bourbon– not at all surprised you were the one! (I assure you I have not been putting whiskey in my coffee. Yet.)

  4. Katie says:

    I wonder what might constitute a Mariposa mint julep? Scary thought. Your cocktails look downright refreshing.

  5. “One guy says to hold the syrup, sugar and mint and just drink the bourbon.” Your posts always make me laugh as do Kininvie’s comments.

    I confess I do not know the difference between muddling, crushing or smashing with a potato. I just serve it up without too much commentary and hope that no one asks me how to prepare such a magical concoction.

    Thank you so much for providing the soundtrack. I’m going to have to play it the next time I’m on the porch with my baby watching the sun go down and sipping a julep.

  6. Cynthia says:

    Okay, an unsolicited story. Some friends of ours host a Kentucky Derby party every year, to which guests are encouraged to wear fancy hats and at which mint juleps are served. Incidentally, we watch the race on t.v. Last year, I decided to sashay over and ask for a small mint julep, a momentous decision indeed as I do not normally imbibe. That “small” mint julep, deliciously prepared (though I do not know if the mint was muddled or crushed), knocked me on my bottom. Ergo, I can vouch for the fact that a mint julep does indeed contribute to a fun party, even more so when one is wearing a wearing fancy hat. If you don’t already have on a fancy hat, you might end up donning a lampshade.

    • linniew says:

      What a great story Cynthia! They are kinda powerful, these juleps. (Like in the song.) I’ve never even heard of a Kentucky Derby party before but it sounds fun with hats and great bourbon. I certainly appreciate the image of you in your hat, sashaying over to the mint julep dispensary area of the party– I just hope Alberto reads your comment.

  7. BTW, the mint julep does look delicious!

    • linniew says:

      After a bit of company to dinner, the mint julep exploration has resulted in an empty bottle and a considerably trimmed mint patch. (I do like trying new things.)

  8. Lyn says:

    So now I know that I don’t have too much peppermint in the garden, I just don’t have enough bourbon (any, in fact). Shall remedy in time for summer.

    • linniew says:

      I didn’t have any bourbon either and then I bought some and now I don’t have any again. But I think I do have a new solstice tradition in those juleps

  9. b-a-g says:

    I’m picturing you walking over the minty footpath, sniffing up the aroma and occasionally taking a swig of mint julep. Could life get any better?

  10. I’m not a huge fan of liquor of any sort but the crushed ice and the mint sprig makes me smile.

  11. Alistair says:

    Thanks again for the entertaining post Linnie. I am tempted to make a mint julep, but I don’t have a cute jar, actually I also don’t have mint. I have a jam jar and a polo which I may be able to crush with one of Myras roast potatoes, oh and I have real whisky *** eek

    • linniew says:

      You could probably do without the cute jar but the mint not so much.

      A polo? Pony? Mallet? Well anyway I expect that ‘real’ whiskey is Scotch. Just guessing!

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