Thursday, March 23, 2017

Mint Juleps

As mentioned in a prior post, as spring approaches, I enjoy a good mint julep.  There is a small patch of spearmint growing beside my hose just for the purposes of making the best juleps outside of Louisville.  Several friends have asked me to share my recipe so I thought that this would be a good place.  I invite any reader to share their favorite recipe.  I don’t usually use a wheated bourbon for juleps since I believe the rye is needed to come through the mint and sugar.  You want to get the perfect blend of the sweet from the simple syrup, bite and complexity from the bourbon and the fragrance of the mint.  I also don’t use my best (most expensive) bourbons for juleps but I won’t use a bottom shelf drink either since off or foul flavors can come through.  I like to use at least 92 proof bourbon but there are some very workable 100 proof choices available.  My juleps NEVER have fruity syrup, artificial mint extracts, any mint other than spearmint or pre-made julep mixes.

Kentucky Bourbon Mint Julep
2 parts simple syrup (equal parts sugar and branch water)
8 parts good 100 proof Kentucky bourbon
1 part branch water
Mull young, fresh spearmint leaves in a small quantity of bourbon to extract mint oils.  Combine simple syrup, bourbon and water with mint extract to taste.  If possible, allow this mixture a few days in a cool area like a refrigerator to develop married flavors.  I really like to put the julep mix in the freezer for a few days so when it is served, the mix doesn’t melt the ice in the cup. If you are short on time it is alright to serve right away.  A silver or stainless julep glass is perfect but a highball glass will do fine.  If possible, full the glasses with ice to pre-chill the glasses.  Dump the ice from the glass after chilling.
Rub the inside of the glass with a couple of mint leaves.  Fill the glass with finely crushed ice and pour the mixture of syrup, bourbon and water over the ice.  Garnish with a bruised mint sprig and dust with confectioner’s sugar.  Use a low straw that brings the nose close to the mint while sipping. 
My juleps usually turn out better if I make my juleps as a batch.  However, you can make then one at a time with 1 oz. simple syrup, 4 oz. bourbon and ½ oz. clear water.  About eight mint leaves should be crushed to make each glass.  To scale up to make a liter of juleps use one 750 ml. bottle of bourbon, about 180 ml of simple syrup and about 100 ml of iron free water.  Plan on using about 100 fresh mint leaves for the batch that will be crushed into a small quantity of bourbon.  You can adjust the ratios based on your taste and the characteristics of the bourbon you are using.  If I am using a bourbon with a lower rye mashbill I tend to go a little lighter on the simple syrup.  A really high rye bourbon may call for a little more simple syrup for my taste.
The mint julep is a high alcohol drink so please enjoy responsibly.  Because they are so delicious, their potency can sneak up on you.

Simple Syrup
I can’t even mess this one up.  Mix equal parts of cane sugar and filtered or spring water and bring to a boil stirring until all sugar is dissolved.  The simple syrup can be “minted” by adding some of the mint that was extracted fresh from leaves.  The simple syrup can be stored in a sealed jar in a refrigerator for a good while although if it is minted, it will quickly lose the mint flavor.  For that reason, I don’t typically add mint until I am ready to make the drinks.

Mint Extract
Pick only the small, tender, fresh leaves from spearmint plants that have not been treated with any pesticides.  Do not use any old or damaged leaves or any part of the mint stem.  Making a batch of julep is easier since all of the mint can be extracted for the entire batch more easily. 
Rinse the leaves in cool tap water to remove any dust or insects.  Cut a square of clean cotton cloth like a one square foot section of discarded sheet or the back of a cotton shirt.  Cheesecloth is too loose for this process.  Place the rinsed spearmint leaves in the cloth square and fold into a bag.  Crush and squeeze the mint then dip into a shallow bowl with a few milliliters of bourbon,  Squeeze and wring the bag of crushed mint leaves dripping the extract into the bourbon and wringing again until the bourbon in the bowl smells strongly of mint.  The freshly extracted mint can be added to the simple syrup or the pre-mixed juleps to taste.
If you are making juleps one at a time, simply crush about 8 rinsed tender spearmint leaves in the julep glass with a splash of bourbon.  Remove the crushed leaves from the glass leaving the infused bourbon.
The mint sprig that goes in the top of the glass can include the stem tip with a few tender leaves.  Quickly clap the sprig between your hands to slightly crush the mint which will release the aroma as the julep is sipped.

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