How To Make The Perfect Mint Julep, Or Three
Edwina’s Affair Mint Julep. Photograph courtesy of Dishoom
A freshly perspiring mint julep presents a handy answer to any quandary a gentleman may face on Kentucky Derby Day. Lost a week’s wages on the horses? Never mind, have a mint julep. Won a week’s wages on the horses? Well done – mint julep! Don’t know which horse to back? Well, the odds-on favourite is Mint Julep… As the great American cocktailer Mr Charles Henry Baker Jr saw it, the mint julep was “a masterpiece in its own right, a true exotic of the Deep South”.
Its origins lie on the porches of Kentucky or thereabouts, where the combination of hard liquor, mint, sugar and crushed ice was a refreshing way for the antebellum gentility to cool down. It predates the cocktail by a few decades. The classic recipe was recorded in the 1830s by the British naval officer Captain Frederick Marryat. The julep, he declared, “is one of the most delightful and insinuating potations that ever was invented.” Mrs Isabella Beeton, the great Victorian cook, copied his recipe, so did The Savoy Cocktail Book, and so – more or less – did Mr Bob Dylan, who declared it to be his favourite cocktail on his Theme Time Radio Hour.
It’s best to think of the julep as a blues standard – a rough order and a sequence that you can use to improvise to your heart’s content. Here are three variations on an American classic.
Classic Mint Julep
Here is the canonical version, made with good strong American whiskey – George T. Stagg by the Buffalo Trace distillery is second to none.
- 10 or so fresh mint leaves, plus a few extra to serve
- 50ml (2oz) bourbon
- 5ml (1/4oz) golden sugar syrup (see recipe)
To make the sugar syrup, combine 2 cups golden caster sugar with 235ml (8oz) boiling water in a pan and stir over a low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Leave to cool (this will keep in the fridge for a month).
For the julep, gently bruise the mint at the bottom of your julep vessel, add the bourbon and sugar syrup and swirl. Add crushed ice to just below the brim and churn so that ice and spirit are well combined. Heap more ice over the top, stick in a straw, garnish with more mint and sip.
Mr Alex Day, co-owner of New York’s Death & Co, came up with this lighter, ever so slightly bitter take on the julep. It uses a base of dry vermouth and draws out the peachier flavours hinted at in the original recipe. Cynar, Averna, Ramazzotti or at a push Campari would work for the amaro part if you can’t find Amaro CioCiaro.
- 5 or so mint leaves (optional), plus a few extra to serve
- 50ml (2oz) dry vermouth (Dolin Blanc recommended)
- 15ml (3/4oz) Italian amaro (Amaro CioCiaro recommended)
- 5ml (1 tsp) peach liqueur
No mint is used in the original recipe, so feel free to omit, but it’s better with, in my opinion. Gently bruise the mint, add the alcohol and churn with plenty of crushed ice until the tin is frosty. Heap more ice on top, slap on a mint sprig and bury that in the cup.
This fragrant gulp of genius is an ever-present on the julep menu at Dishoom, the Bombay-inspired restaurant in London, where head barman Mr Carl Anthony Brown draws on the drink’s reputed Persian origins. I’ve simplified his recipe a touch for home drinking.
- 5 green cardamom pods
- 50ml (2oz) gin
- 10 or so mint leaves, plus a few extra to serve
- 10ml (1/2oz) rose liqueur (such as Lanique)
- 5ml (1 tsp) golden sugar syrup (see recipe above)
- Rose petals, to serve (optional)
Bash the cardamom pods quite hard with the gin to release their fragrance. Strain and you have cardamom-infused gin. Easy! Now make the julep as before: gently bruise the mint, add the cardamom-infused gin and rose liqueur (a dash of rose water would work just as well), top with crushed ice and churn. Heap more ice over the top, stick in a straw, garnish with more mint and rose petals if you’re feeling fancy.