The Kentucky Derby may be over, but May 30 is national Mint Julep day. We’ve rounded up some of the best recipes and spots so that you can sip on potent mint juleps all summer long. Read on to find out where this Southern drink came from and how mixologists are playing with flavors, floaters, and favorite liquors.
The mint julep’s roots come from an Arabic drink called julab, which was made from water and rose petals. The Julab then moved around the Mediterranean, where the petals were replaced with mint. Since the 1700s, mint juleps have been served in the South. In 1938, it became the signature drink of the Churchill Downs during Derby week.
Like most classic cocktails, the mint julep has recently experienced some new incarnations. With the rise of craft cocktail bars and a return to honing that craft, mixologists have begun to play around with new concepts for favorite drinks, and this drink is no exception.
Boston mixologist Joseph Cammarata, who won an award at trade event Tales of the Cocktail, noted mixologists create twists on mint juleps. “I’ve seen a lot of bartenders play around with different spirits, sweeteners, or herbs in making mint juleps. Since it is such a simple drink to make, subbing out one of the parts can make a big impact in the flavor,” Cammarata says.
Northern Take on the Mint Julep
Cammarata’s favorite place to get a mint julep is at The Hawthorne in Boston: “They have one on their menu with an Isla single malt that is typically not used in cocktails. It has an amazing balance of smoke and sweetness,” Cammarata says. The Hawthorne has been open for two and a half years and its specialty is hand-crafted cocktails.
“The julep transcends its refined expression to the point where it becomes something like the old-fashioned where you can go from spirit to spirit and modify certain aspects of it, and sort of let that spirit speak in that way,” says The Hawthorne owner Jackson Cannon. “The mint julep is a very, very important cocktail, is an extremely simple recipe when done right, but it’s one of those cocktails that the careful technique is the difference between a poorly made one and a great one.”
If you can’t make it to The Hawthorne to try their mint juleps for yourself, here are two recipes you can easily try at home.
1 oz Del Maguey Espadin Especial
1 oz Del Maguey Chichicapa
½ oz cinnamon syrup
Mint Julep Build
Garnish: 2 dashes Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters. Bountiful mint.
Origin: Katie Emmerson
2oz Lagavulin 16-yr
½ oz simple syrup
small fistful mint
Garnish: mint sprig, spoon straw
Origin: Katie Emmerson and Jackson Cannon
Mint Juleps in the South
New Orleans mixologist Rhiannon Enlil has noted that other bartenders tend to incorporate Baska Snaps, a popular Swedish-style liqueur made with wormwood. Enlil prefers to use all natural ingredients: “For me it’s definitely fresh herbs and produce. Most people don’t realize the South is just kind of blooming with amazing natural local ingredients all the time, all year round,” says Enlil, who mixes drinks at both Cure and the Erin Rose. “In the South we can basically walk outside, grab a bushel of rosemary, and walk back in and make a drink, so that’s how I kind of approach making cocktails in New Orleans.”
According to Enlil, other areas in the South like to incorporate a lot of peaches, use more or less sugar, and may or may not use mint. But when using mint, spearmint is widely used.“We almost always use spearmint exclusively, because it is fragrant and has kind of a spear quality to it. But as you play around with different styles of it, you’re going get a completely different julep,” Enlil says. Two of Enlil’s favorite places to get mint juleps are the King Fish in New Orleans, by the Godfather of cocktails, Chris McMillian, and the Silver Dollar in Louisville, Kentucky.
Having made a name for herself in the New Orleans cocktail scene, Enlil is no stranger to playing with flavors in her own cocktails. Here’s her take on a mint julep, which combines two flavors you often see together: chocolate and mint.
Rhiannon Enlil’s Chocolate Mint Julep
Lightly muddle 6-8 leaves of chocolate mint in a glass or julep cup
Add 2 oz. Oronoco rum
Add a barspoon of rich Demerara simple syrup
Add two dashes of Bittermens Xocolatl Mole bitters
Top with crushed ice and stir
Garnish with a mint sprig
For more culinary travel destinations, check out:
- Four Can’t-Miss Southern Food Festivals
- Mexican Foodie Favorites for Cinco de Mayo
- A Food Critic’s Favorite New York Neighborhood Restaurants
By Hannah Townsley for PeterGreenberg.com