I don’t remember just how I started
I only know that we should have parted
I stole a kiss, and then another
I didn’t mean to take it further
One mint julep was the cause of it all
by Rudy Toombs
Vindaloo loves the Kentucky Derby! She loves the grace and beauty of the horses! She loves the beautiful hats! She loves the white gloves! She loves the idea of dressing up and wearing heels to an outdoor sporting event! She especially loves mint juleps! And she has long been aware that one mint julep is often the cause of many successive mint juleps and therefore, many unpredictable and often highly enjoyable events.
Happily, even though the Kentucky Derby has come and gone for this year, the opportunity to drink mint juleps in the hot, humid, sultry summer is not. And who can resist drinking an icy, powerfully refreshing libation in a frozen silver cup, which you sip elegantly through a long, silver straw while balancing your cup on a white linen napkin? Serving mint juleps in the proper way (in heels, Sunday-go-to-meetin' clothes, gloves and an oversize hat, carrying a silver tray, of course) is a lovely thing to do for guests (or just for yourself) on a hot summer afternoon.
What is the proper way to make a mint julep? Well, folks disagree widely about that. There are many opinions and even more recipes, but the essential ingredients are: plenty of crushed or shaved ice, good quality bourbon, fresh mint and some form of sugar--er, shugah. Some folks prefer to muddle the mint with granulated sugar before adding the bourbon and crushed ice, others use confectioner's sugar so that it will dissolve quickly (or garnish the drink not only with mint but also with powdered sugar), and still others make a simple syrup infused with mint. The most intriguing recipe is one in which you prepare a mint extract of bourbon and fresh mint leaves that is infused with a larger quanitity of bourbon 24 hours prior to serving your juleps. Find that recipe here.
However enchanting making your own mint extract might seem however, that procedure takes planning, and Vindaloo prefers to have a mint julep on the spur of the moment, something she can always do because she always has fresh mint growing in her herb garden. Don't you? Vindaloo also likes to be able to put together a mint julep with little effort (because muddling often takes more effort than she's willing to expend) and has often made mint juleps with simple syrup infused with mint. It is a very simple thing to make quantities of simple mint syrup when you have excess mint, or leggy mint that is unsuitable for garnishing your julep, and this syrup freezes very well. So defrost it early in the day (if you're a planner) or in your microwave (if you're a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pantser) and bless your little pea-pickin' heart, you can have mint juleps anytime you want. You can find a really good recipe using this technique here.
Another really delicious variation of the mint julep is Bobby Flay's Blackberry-Bourbon Julep, very lovely and very different. Serve this one in an elegant glass or cut crystal goblet so that you can see the muddled blackberries, all plummy and swimming around rather tipsily. This drink is not authentic to the original intent of the mint julep, but believe me, by the time you get around to eating the blackberries, you won't even be able to spell the word "maceration." Now, if you believe that I have made an embarrasin' foo paw in the prior sentence, you'd best find your Funk and Wagnall's and look that word up, shug.
And now, because we're straying from the original intent (an excuse to drink bourbon with only slight modifications to its original form), I want to have a small discussion about bourbon. Opinions about bourbon can border on the defensive and if crossed, be taken as a personal affront. Bourbon, much like wine, has characteristics that attract bourbon lovers for widely disparate reasons. Some folks like a smoky, darker quality, while others like a slightly sweet, lightly caramel quality. Since bourbon has to be made from grain comprised of at least 51% corn to be labeled bourbon, and since all bourbon is aged in new, charred oak barrels, there is opportunity for much variation among bourbons since the grain mixture as well as the length of time in the barrel will determine a bourbon's characteristics. Although she is certainly not a bourbon expert, Vindaloo knows what she likes. She is definitely a Maker's Mark girl because of its buttery, lush, honeyed toffee notes and its wonderful structure, balance and smooth finish. However, for special occasions, she does deviate a bit and tipple a bit of Noah's Mill, an incredibly elegant and well-balanced 114.3 proof 15-year-old rocket fuel that is full of vanilla, caramel and toasted wood. Vindaloo loves Noah's Mill over vanilla ice cream--do try it!! A friend prefers Knob Creek for its voluptuously rich, nutty and woody/smokey notes. Another friend drinks Eagle Rare, full of toasted almond, honey and tobacco leaf. So Vindaloo stocks them all on her bar, and everyone's happy. Ah, the delights of bourbon!
One thing is agreed: the silver cup or elegant glass you serve your mint juleps from must be frozen. I'm convinced that freezing the cup is necessary so that the linen napkin will get stuck to the cup while it's protecting your fingers from frostbite. Of course you can freeze a beautiful glass that will be frosty and icy when your julep is served, but the icyness won't last long. Use the authentic thing--a silver cup--and the crushed ice will form a lovely little ice jacket on the outside for a long, long time.
One more thing: I'm also including a recipe for a lovely little cocktail--think of it as a shirttail cousin of the mint julep--that sneaks up on you quietly and then delivers a lethal punch. Remember drinking a Stinger? Well, this cocktail is similar for its assertiveness (er, Northern Aggression)...find the recipe below.
Kentucky Licorice Stick
I developed this recipe one late winter night. I think two of these would qualify for a TKO.
1 oz. bourbon
1 oz. Marie Brizzard Anisette (or other anise flavored liqueur)
cracked or crushed ice
Combine all ingredients in a brandy snifter. Drink at your own risk. Makes one drink.