Did I Miss Something…

July 10, 2009

When did the Mint Julip become a old biddy’s drink?!

This classic, well-crafted, cocktail, when made in the hands of a good bartender is the epitome of sunny weather refreshment.

The combination of floral, strong, and sweet sits on the tongue like there’s no tomorrow. Opening up your tastebuds to the Bourbon’s complexity without paralysing your mouth with its inherent burn.

Apparently first recorded in 1803 described as a ““dram of spirituous liquor that has mint in it, taken by Virginians in the morning.”. Finding its historical roots in an ancient Arabic drink called a Julab, combining rose petals, water, and sugar which produced a scent believed to impart instant benifits upon the drinker. As this drink swiftly spred to the Mediterranean regions the rose petals were changed in favour of mint, a more widespread local herb. So began the Julip’s rise to popularity.

It is believed to have arrived in the USA in the early 1700’s as a morning pick-me-up for the land laborours, originally produced with Rye whiskey or Rum as its constituant alcohol parts. By 1938 however it was established as the Kentucky Derby’s official drink of the races, and so it continues to this day.

The below is a brief excert I like to think summarises the Julip’s mood setting tones:

By William Alexander Percy

[From “A Small Boy’s Heroes”, Lanterns on the Levee, the autobiography of William Alexander Percy (Louisiana State University Press, 1988)]

“Father and General Catchins and Captain McNeilly and Captain Wat Stone and Mr. Everman would forgather every so often on our front gallery. These meeting must habitually have taken place in summer, because I remember Mother would be in white, looking very pretty, and would immediately set about making a mint julep for the gentlemen – no hors d’oeuvres, no sandwiches, no cocktails, just a mint julep. After the first long swallow – really a slow and noiseless suck, because the thick crushed ice comes against your teeth and the ice must be kept out and the liquor let in – Cap Mac would say: “Very fine, Camille, you make the best julep in the world.” She probably did. Certainly her juleps had nothing in common with those hybrid concoctions one buys in bars the world over under that name. It would have been sacrilege to add lemon, or a slice of orange or of pineapple, or one of these wretched maraschino cherries.

First you needed excellent bourbon whisky; rye or Scotch would not do at all. Then you put half an inch of sugar in the bottom of the glass and merely dampened it with water. Next, very quickly – and here is the trick in the procedure – you crushed your ice, actually powdered it, preferably in a towel with a wooden mallet, so quickly that it remained dry, and slipping two sprigs of fresh mint against the inside of the glass, you crammed the ice in right to the brim, packing it with your hand. Last you filled the glass, which apparently had no room left for anything else, with bourbon, the older the better, and grated a bit of nutmeg on the top.

The glass immediately frosted and you settled back in your chair for a half an hour of sedate cumulative bliss. Although you stirred the sugar at the bottom, it never all melted, therefore at the end of the half hour there was left a delicious mess of ice and mint and whisky which a small boy was allowed to consume with calm rapture. Probably the anticipation of this phase of a julep was what held me on the outskirts of these meetings rather than the excitement of the discussion, which often I did not understand.”

The recipes themselves most certainly don’t debate the ingredients. Mint, Sugar, Ice, and a healthy dose of Bourbon (the older the better). However, the build, and quantity, of the ingredients is, and always has been, in debate.

The below is as I quite like putting it together. Neither sweet nor bitter, neither overpoweringly strong nor watered down:

60ml Bourbon
12-15 Small to Medium sized Mint Leaves
2-4 Bar Spoons brown sugar (never, ever, ever, ever Gomme)

Add the sugar, varying to taste, in the base of tall glass (if spare, a boston tin is perfect) and add a drop of water to the mixure. Pulverise the sugar into a paste with a muddler and spread around the base of your glass. Pick your mint, being careful to include no stems or to tear the mint and, after briefly slapping it to releae flavour, add to the glass. Lightly use a muddler to coat the mint in the sugar paste throughout. Fill your glass to the brim with crushed ice and churn slightly to spread the ingredients through the depth of the drink. Then quickly add your Bourbon before any dilution occurs and again churn lightly to spread the flavour throughout. Taste the drink now to check the correct balance of flavours. Add additional amounts of individual ingredients to taste.

Garnish with many a mint sprig, forcing the customer to practically drink through a forest of the stuff! The classic addition of grated nutmeg on the top is not to my taste but is certainly to many peoples taste, adding a light spice which is very complimentary to the Bourbon.

Exactly as I like it.


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