Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Making perfect mint julep a sure thing

By Chuck Martin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

How to make the best mint julep:

Frost glass or metal mug well before serving. This will help prevent the ice from melting so quickly.

Always use the freshest mint, whether infusing the mint into the whiskey or sugar syrup, or muddling it in the bottom of the glass. Some believe the younger the mint the better the flavor. If you're picking from an older plant, select the more tender leaves near the top. Keep mint springs in a glass of water in the refrigerator. Rinse and dry mint just before using. When infusing or muddling, strip the mint leaves and discard the tough stems, which can add bitterness.

Use good bourbon. Chris Morris, master distiller of Brown-Forman Corp. in Louisville, suggests using a "rich, robust bourbon" with a proof of 86 to 90. A spicy bourbon will hold up best to sugar in the julep, he says. Generally, the better the bourbon the better the julep. But you probably don't want to use expensive, aged whiskeys in any kind of cocktail.

Use shaved or finely crushed ice. You can make your own at home by wrapping ice cubes in a clean dishtowel and crushing it with a rolling pin or frying pan.

Position the mint garnish and straw carefully. Mint juleps may be the only cocktail that relies on its garnish to enhance the olfactory experience. Shove the straw through the ice all the way to the bottom of the cup, then cut it off just above the top of the ice. Position the sprig of mint just near and just above the straw, forcing the "customer" to take a breath of mint fragrance with every sip.

• This julep recipe, from the master distiller of Brown-Forman, Corp., is for purists and "mint muddlers."

Chris Morris' Mint Julep

1 teaspoon confectioners' sugar

Fresh mint leaves

About 4 ounces bourbon

Crushed ice

Mint sprig, for garnish

Place sugar, about 5 mint leaves and a few drops of bourbon in bottom of chilled glass or cup. Muddle or crush the mint to create a thick, green paste in glass. Add 1 handful of finely crushed ice. Place straw all the way to bottom of cup, into green mint paste.

Pour 21/2 to 3 ounces of bourbon over ice. Add more crushed ice, mounding to top of cup leaving straw peeking about 1 inch above rim. Place fresh mint sprig near straw. Makes 1 mint julep.

• The president of Maker's Mark, Bill Samuels, Jr., prefers infusing mint into the whiskey for juleps. This recipe is best for a crowd, because you can make the basic mixture several days ahead, then add ice.

Bill Samuels' Mint Julep

Fresh mint

About 4 cups bourbon

1 cup spring or distilled water

1 cup granulated sugar

Confectioners' sugar

Strip about 40 small mint leaves from stems. Wash and place leaves in a small bowl. Cover mint with 3 ounces bourbon. Allow the leaves to soak 15 minutes. Gather mint in clean cheesecloth or cotton cloth and wring the mint bundle over the bowl. Dip leaves back into whiskey and repeat several times. Set bowl aside and discard mint bundle.

To make simple syrup, mix 1 cup granulated sugar and 1 cup distilled water in pan. Over medium heat, stir to dissolve sugar. Set syrup aside to cool.

Pour 3 1/2 cups bourbon into large bowl or pitcher. Add 1 cup simple syrup. Begin adding mint extract 1 tablespoon at a time. Stir and taste before adding another tablespoon. Depending on the potency of the mint, you may need as many as 3 tablespoons of mint extract. (The tendency is to add too much.) Cover and refrigerate julep mixture for at least 24 hours to marry flavors.

To serve, fill each glass or cup half full with shaved ice. Insert a sprig of mint, then pack in more ice to about 1 inch over top of cup. Then insert straw cut to 1 inch above the top of the cup.

When frost forms on the outside of cup, pour refrigerated julep mixture over the ice and add a sprinkle of confectioners' sugar to the top of the ice. Makes about 10 juleps.

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• If you're looking for an alternative to the traditional mint julep, here's the martini version created by the Red Lounge in Louisville, featured in April's Playboy.

Mint Julep Martini

2 ounces orange liqueur

2 ounces bourbon

1/4 ounce vanilla vodka

1/4 ounce peppermint schnapps

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with mint sprigs and an orange twist. Makes 1 drink.

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