From inspiring artists of all realms to politicians of every background, every Southerner (adopted and natural born) has one thing in common: the love and respect of bourbon. Bourbon has integrated itself so tightly with Southern culture, there isn’t a famous -or infamous- Southerner out there that hasn’t touted their love affair with this felicitous liquid. While the craft cocktail movement is causing the mixed-drink scene to evolve to 13 ingredient, wild-caught edible flower trimmed aperitifs, sometimes you just have to throw it back to your roots and go with a classic like the Mint Julep.
And as the Kentucky Derby lures within our graspable future, today we are honoring the pure and simple recipe for this heralded drink. As you may well know, the recipe for a Mint Julep is straightforward- simple syrup, bourbon, ice, mint- however, the techniques in which you apply your ingredients can transform your Derby drink from basic to bougie with the simple flick of a bespoke Panama hat.
1 ounce simple syrup
3 sprigs fresh mint plus more for garnishing
First. In a chilled Julep cup, lightly muddle together simple syrup with the mint. Do not pulverize the leaves, these are delicate delicacies so treat them as you would a Southern woman- tenderly and with the utmost appreciation. Hell hath no fury like a woman (or mint leaves) scorned.
Second. Pour your bourbon over the simple syrup concoction. This is a very important step. The bourbon in which you choose to make your mark with should be a reflection of you and your good taste. A cheap bourbon would indicate a thoughtless stab at this Southern classic, so consider the bourbon an extension of you. Southern Proverbs would state that you shall serve unto others as you would serve unto thyself and you should be the merriment of good graces of all who surround you.
Third. Scoop in your crushed ice. If you are not fortunate enough to own your very own God-created, heaven-sent mini ice maker circa every sane Southerner’s obsession at the Zaxby’s drive-thru, you can make crushed ice three ways: from your fridge door ice maker, using a food processor, or- my favorite way- a good ol’ fashioned meat tenderizer with ice in a Ziploc bag. Either way will yield the same result, however, door number three helps relieve some of the tension that the bourbon might otherwise not. Scoop the ice into a rounded overflowing snow-cone shape. This drink, after all, was concocted under the premise of seersucker-clad men and tea-length gown dressed women who serendipitously sipped on these in the pre-air-conditioned South we have fortunately never had the displeasure of experiencing in our modern exploits.
Fourth. Garnish with a forest of mint leaves tucked into the ice. The perfumes of the mint as one goes to take a sip of your masterly crafted cocktail will set the stage for the ambrosial tipple that will surely intoxicate your crowd not only in being but spiritually as well. The mint as the star essence of this tincture serves a dual purpose for merry friends to use as a breath freshener when the space between your guests go from casual to comfortable.
While the Mint Julep hides under the guise of a “simple cocktail” for most, the practices in which you create your beverage should be a good mixture of methodical and whimsical. Much like the rush of jockey’s silks all aiming for first on their racing steeds- it is a beautiful melancholy twisted into one sip. A drink that never should have found fancy with both men and women, but has wound its way into not only our sub 36 degree 30’ north civilization and into the realm of classics that has inspired generations to come on showmanship and the respect of upholding tradition.
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