Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Mint Julep

I realize the fastest 2 minutes in sports came and went a month and a half ago, but given my last post, I felt I was duty-bound to type up a tutorial on how to fix a proper mint julep at home.  Few cocktails are as loved and hated as the mint julep.  I personally love them...when they are done right!  If you have only had a mint julep at a certain racetrack and gagged on the contents, I don't blame you a bit.  Watered down, weak bourbon, and little mint ensures a lousy julep.  But you can make one at home that is tasty and will get you pretty toasty in minutes, and it is an excellent way to use up the mint taking over your garden!

The most labor-intensive part of a julep is the "simple syrup."  Although it really is simple, 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water brought to a boil on the stove, then let it thicken a bit.  That's it.  But this is where I differ from most julep recipes you will find.  When I take the syrup off the heat, I drop in a small bunch of mint leaves and let it steep.  This will give the syrup a slight greenish tint, and the aroma of mint will be amazing.  (I might add, not a bad start to a mojito either!)  I prefer to get the mint flavor this way, rather than the muddling technique usually mentioned because the mint becomes more prominent in the finished product.  After it's steeped for a bit, remove and discard the mint, and keep any syrup not being used immediately in a covered container in the fridge.  It should keep up to a week.  When you're ready to have a julep, fill a glass with crushed ice (a plastic zip bag and the flat side of a meat tenderizer works well), pour a tablespoon or so of syrup over the ice, add bourbon to taste (I make mine VERY strong, but some people don't like much bourbon...I hear there are associations that can help with mental imbalances like that), and top with water if you want (I don't).  Give it a stir, and garnish with a sprig of mint and a short straw. 

What's that?  You don't want to make a whole cup of simple syrup?  You think that despite my expert tutelage you still won't like juleps? Well, okay, then take 1 tablespoon of sugar, and about a half tablespoon of water and put it into a microwave-safe glass.  Zap it for about 20 seconds and give it a stir until all the sugar is melted.  Drop in a couple mint leaves and leave it until it cools.  If you want to strengthen the mint flavor, you could muddle the leaves with the back of the spoon.  After the glass has cooled COMPLETELY, fill with the crushed ice and proceed with the bourbon (Maker's Mark is an excellent choice), water (optional, i.e., unnecessary), and sprig of mint.  Give it a good stir to get the syrup up from the bottom of the glass.  (I know some people would say use powdered sugar, but I just don't care for it.  I can't put my finger on what it is, but it tastes off to me.  It's granulated or nothing.) You can play with the proportions and make it how you like, but for me, this is always a fool-proof julep, and makes a very pretty one, as you can see.

How about you?  Love juleps or hate them?