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.
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.
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.
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.