Mint Julep [from The Art of American Whiskey] (V)
There’s something about summer that makes cocktail hour come sooner and last longer. You step out of work, walk into a pub, and order a beer at 5:03 and no one thinks anything of it; in fact, you’re not the first one to arrive– not by a long shot. You walk into a bar on a Tuesday night and you have to squeeze in between the hipsters to get a seat. No one looks at you funny for ordering a second watermelon tequila smash. Or a third. It’s the most wonderful time of the year! I’ve been getting very into making festive post-work cocktails lately, so just stay tuned.
Don’t tell anyone, but I think I like developing cocktail recipes more than food ones. Flavor combinations are more delicate. There is the finest line between a good cocktail and a great cocktail. Sure, I can throw a shot of this and two fingers of that and some muddled fruit in a highball glass and it’ll be pretty darn good. Add a squeeze of lime and maybe it’ll be really good. But a great cocktail needs no embellishment, save for a few herbs or citrus peel. Which brings me to my next point: the mint julep.
No, no, I did not invent the mint julep (duh,) but I am using it as a benchmark for my cocktail developing from now on. It’s so simple, but tastes truly amazing. It seriously makes me want to forget the time in my life when I thought a good cocktail was cheap rum mixed with cream soda. Oooof. Anyway, I’ve been digging bourbon lately. Like, having-a-nightly-glass kind of digging it. And when Noah Rothbaum‘s new book, The Art of American Whiskey arrived at my doorstep a few weeks ago, I knew I was about to dive into a full-on love affair. Whiskey is rad. We all know it. Even if you don’t like the taste of it, you know it’s pretty cool. I’ve met many people who claim to be whiskey aficionados –the amount of times I’ve had to listen to mansplaining about which scotch is superior makes my head hurt– but Noah actually knows his stuff. He travels his way through history chapter by chapter, starting with “The Late 1800s and Early 1900s,” “Prohibition,” and “Life After Temperance;” all the way up to “The Swinging Sixties,” “The Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties, aka the Dark Ages,” and “The New Golden Age” (right now.) He details political and economic implications behind whiskey (and liquor in general) during the various decades, as well as how the drinks fit into the social climate of the times. Each chapter features cocktail recipes from various contributors that were originally developed during the corresponding time period. Along the way, he includes images of label art of the top 100 iconic whiskey bottles– easily my favorite part of the book. The recipes take a bit of a backseat to the historical notes, but that didn’t bother me as much as I thought it was going to after the first chapter. It’s definitely much more of a coffee table book than a standard cookbook, but that shouldn’t dissuade you from picking up a copy. Grab the book, make a cocktail, then enjoy it while you read and work your way towards becoming a whiskey buff.
The mint julep hails from the 1800s, and was originally made with the grape-based brandy cognac. But when cognac stock was depleted from pests attacking European grape crops, bartenders were forced to switch to whiskey and gin. I made a julep with cognac after the real thing and it just doesn’t hold up. Try it yourself and see what you think!
Mint Julep (from The Art of American Whiskey, contributed by Allen Katz; makes 1 cocktail)
8 fresh mint leaves + sprig for garnish
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 1/2 ounces bourbon
Muddle mint, sugar, and a small amount of crushed ice in a julep cup (I don’t have one, but this one is now on my wish list. If you don’t have one either, a highball glass or mason jar work just fine.) Add more crushed ice to fill half the cup, then add the bourbon. Stir until the cup becomes frosty, then add more ice to fill the cup all the way to the top. Garnish with mint and drink with a straw (that crushed ice gets everrrrrrywhere.)