It feels like forever since the last time it was like this. After all those months of grey skies and frosted winds, you can finally feel the sun warming your skin again. The old scent of wet pavement has faded; the breeze is now tinged with the soft odor of flowers and cut grass. A bead of sweat slides down a strand of your hair, falling to the bridge of your nose. As you wipe it away, you think to yourself how nice it is to be outside again. But there is one thing that could make this moment just a little better. You could use a drink.
For the last few weeks, we've given you some classic cocktails to up your mixology game. Now, the Old Fashioned and Manhattan are absolute classics and cornerstones of the cocktail world. But let's be real. Those are drinks for a mellow evening at home. They're drinks you order at a classy bar on a first date. They aren't drinks you sip on a warm Spring afternoon.
The dawning of Spring calls for a warm-weather drink. You need something refreshing that you can sip on while kicking back on a hot afternoon. With that in mind, and the Kentucky Derby right around the corner, we've decided to celebrate the moment by bringing you the classic Mint Julep. With the rich aroma of mint, the punch of Kentucky bourbon, the sweetness of sugar, and plenty of ice, the Mint Julep is the perfect drink to keep you cool as the sun beats down.
It's also mentioned in the criminally underrated Adventureland
The History of the Mint Julep
As we did with the Manhattan, we've decided to give you a little bit of history with your drink. So, feel free to use what you learn here to entertain your guests as you hand them their drink.
Originally, the julab or gulab was a beverage of rose petals and water, popular in the Middle East and India. Through travel and trade, Europeans became familiar with it and looked to create a version of their own. Eventually, the rose petals were replaced by mint, a local herb. Once the drink was introduced to the United States in the early 1800's, alcohol was added to the mix (U-S-A! U-S-A!).
Initially, this alcohol was brandy or rum, and the drink was popular mostly with the elite classes of Virginia. As its popularity spread, however, bourbon became the liquor of choice. Practically, this made a lot of sense, since Virginia's neighbor, Kentucky, had a wealth of bourbon. This change also allowed those who weren't as wealthy to enjoy the drink, as bourbon was much cheaper. Thus began the strong connection between Kentucky and the Mint Julep that still holds today.
At the time, it was even common for people to have a Mint Julep at breakfast to wake themselves up. People in the 1800's had no shame about day drinking. In yet another excuse to partake, rumor spread that the drink cured upset stomachs. It probably didn't cure anything, though it probably did make them care less about the stomach ache. Though we eventually wised up about its "health benefits," the Mint Julep remained a mainstay of Southern cocktails. To this day, Churchill Downs sells around 100,000 Mint Juleps during the two days of the Kentucky Derby. Hopefully, none of them for breakfast.
What You Need
You may have noticed that each drink in this series builds upon the last. For instance, each drink so far contains bourbon. Further, none of them need to be shaken. The idea here is to keep the cost to you as low as possible while also giving you several options.
Keeping with that theme, the Mint Julep only requires two cheap additions to your collection. First, you'll need some mint leaves, which you can buy at a local grocery store. Then, you'll need a muddler, which is available online or at specialty stores for around $5.
And that's it. You're good to go. Yes, we know we're clever. Yes, you can still tell us anyway.
But what about those nifty silver cups you always see Mint Juleps served in? Those are nice and they look pretty cool. At the same time, they also tend to be pretty expensive. A single cup can cost $12-20. That being the case, we recommend holding off for now. If you end up loving the Mint Julep and drink it often enough, you can choose to splurge on the cups later.
How to Make a Mint Julep
There are a few different ways to make a Mint Julep and each bartender seems to have their own. Our recipe is a simple, classic version that you can master quickly. Once you do, you can feel free to experiment if you choose.
Refining Gentleman Mint Julep
1 1/2 oz Kentucky bourbon
1 oz simple syrup
8-10 sprigs of fresh mint
Start by tearing off a handful of mint leaves. Gently rise them under running water to remove any dirt. Place them directly into your drinking glass.
Next, add your simple syrup and grab your muddler. Press the rigid end against the leaves and apply pressure. Do not be too aggressive. The point of muddling is to release the aroma of the mint, not to break it apart. Press a few times with your muddler and take a whiff. It should smell strong and minty but not bitter.
Now, add plenty of ice. Crushed ice works best, since it keeps the drink cold and melts faster than cubed ice. Usually, you don't want the ice in your drinks to melt quickly but since the Mint Julep is a strong drink, the water helps lower the intensity. If your refrigerator has a setting for crushed ice, you're in luck. Otherwise, you can put some ice cubes in a kitchen towel, wrap it tight, and crush the ice with a mallet (or hammer if you're street).
Finally, top it off with your bourbon. Using a straw or your bar spoon, give it a quick stir. Then, kick back, give a toast in your best Kentucky accent, promise never to do that again, and enjoy.
This weekend, pick up some mint leaves and a muddler. Invite some friends over to watch the Kentucky Derby or, if you aren't into horse racing, a daytime NBA game. If you're not a fan of either (and are amazed basketball season is still going on), then find another substitute. Make a few Mint Juleps and offer them to your friends to get in the proper spirit (Dad Joke Alert!).