Beverage & Bar Features
Mint Julep - The Southern Drink of Choiceby Trish Bales
As we all know, it's hot in Texas in the summertime -- very hot. It can be hard to get motivated to do anything outside other than walking (very quickly) from the house to the car. This heat is something we southerners are accustomed to, however, and many years ago, a refreshing drink, supposedly of Arabian origin, was adopted as "the quintessential southern drink" in the United States -- the Mint Julep.
Mint Julep HistoryA Mint Julep is more than just a deliciously refreshing drink. It symbolizes hospitality, something we southerners are known for. In East Texas, people place bundles of mint in their doorways to welcome guests. In ancient Greece, mint leaves were crushed and rubbed on the table to show hospitality to visitors. Worldwide, and in many cultures, displaying or serving mint in one shape or form is considered to be a welcome sign.
In Mexico, mint is called Yerba Buena (which means "good herb") and is commonly used in the Mexican meatball soup Albondigas. In the Middle East, a refreshing and colorful bowl of tabouli wouldn't be the same without the addition of finely chopped mint, and I wouldn't think of serving a lemon or chocolate tart without placing a few perfect mint leaves in the center for decoration.
Fortunately, mint is easy to grow. It is happy growing in the sun or partial shade and likes to be kept fairly moist. It will grow well in either a pot or in the ground, and it comes in many different varieties such as chocolate, pineapple, and the classic spearmint and peppermint. The classic varieties are traditionally used for the mint julep drink but all types of mint would make an interesting Mint Julep cocktail.
I'll Have What She's HavingAt last, we arrive at the 'good herb's' use in cocktails. I'm not going to get into who should take credit for making the mint julep so famous, but I will mention The Kentucky Derby's tradition of serving this drink at its race events in a fancy, silver cup. In Louisiana, the cocktail is sipped out on the front porch in the dead heat of summer in a small, crystal glass, with or without a stem.
In East Texas, they don't care much what they drink a mint julep in -- silver, crystal or just plain old glass -- as long as there is plenty of ice. Crushed ice is preferred. To make a spectacular mint julep it is important that the drink is really cold. A frosted glass would be most welcome, but if that isn't possible, it can be made up for with an abundance of crushed ice.
Some don't realize that advance preparation is needed in mixing up a mint julep. It begins with making syrup by boiling water and sugar together for 5 minutes. After the sugar is completely dissolved, the liquid needs to be cooled, placed in a covered container with 6 to 8 bruised mint springs, and then refrigerated overnight. Because of the need for this advance preparation, mint juleps cannot be whipped up on the spur of the moment. But, please believe me, they are worth planning for when you are entertaining guests.
Proof RequiredNational Mint Julep Day is May 30. A premium Kentucky Bourbon is what is usually preferred in making a quality mint julep. My preference would be Maker's Mark. Maker's Mark was established in 1805 as a gristmill/distillery, and it's the nation's oldest working distillery on its original site located on the banks of Hardin's Creek near Loretto, Kentucky. It is also one of the smallest distilleries, crafting Bourbon in batches of less than 19 barrels. It has a smooth, sophisticated flavor and is hand-made at every step. It also is not too sweet to mix with the syrup used in a mint julep.
My second choice would be Jim Beam, another not-too-sweet Bourbon good for mixing with a sweet cocktail. It's also a little less expensive than Maker's Mark and is easy to find at any liquor store. You may prefer to experiment with different Bourbons to determine which is the best for mixing with your mint cocktail.
Mint Julep Ingredients
Make a julep by filling a julep cup or glass with crushed ice, then adding 1 tablespoon of mint syrup and 2 ounces of bourbon. Stir rapidly with a spoon to frost outside of cup or glass. Garnish with a fresh mint sprig.
Kitchen tools you'll need: Bar Spoon, Blenders, Carafes & Pitchers, Julep Cups
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