Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Enter the Julep

For a horse player there is no week like the week that leads up to the Kentucky Derby. Basically, leading up to the first Saturday in May, if it’s not about the Derby, my brain cannot process it. Luckily, the Derby comes with a drink. It’s a drink I think I can talk about for a week, and I’m going to try. Welcome to Mint Julep Week 2009. Expect lots of action.

Today, I picked mint out of the yard.

I put a good bit of it in a jar of simple syrup to soak. Simply put equal parts sugar and water in a pot, (I used a cup and a half of each), and turn on the heat and stand there, stirring lackadaisically until the liquid is clear. It shouldn’t come to a full boil, and really doesn’t take long at all. I stuffed a jar with mint, filled it with cool syrup (actually still slightly warm, but definitely not hot), and stuck it in the fridge. This is my favorite way to make juleps, but it is not, by any means, the only way.

And that is a fortunate thing, since I don’t like to wait. Especially for a mint julep.

The julep was first referenced in 1803,  "dram of spirituous liquor that has mint in it, taken by Virginians in the morning." (For those of you counting, I think the Old Fashioned is first mentioned in 1806, and the Sazerac in the 1830s. More on this -- and perhaps some morning drinking, just to see how that plays, I’m a Virginian, after all -- throughout the week.)

The simplest, oldest recipe I know is to take some superfine sugar and put it in the bottom of a julep cup and dissolve it in 3 ounces of bourbon. Crush ice and pack it on top of the bourbon. Put a big sprig of mint on the top of the drink. You’re supposed to drink it through a straw, and the straw is supposed to be short, so your nose is right in the mint the whole time.

(Here’s a trick: it’s hard to get the straw through the ice, and, in fact, it’s hard to get the mint in the ice, too, if you pack it well enough. You can put two straws in the cup before you put in the ice, remove one and put your mint in there, drink through the other, while nosing the mint.)

This seems, of course, like a very lackluster method, but I tell you it is not. It works. I’ll admit to bruising the mint in my hands a little, to wake it up and get the oils going (and while I’m at it, I’ll admit that the mint in my yard is actually called “Kentucky Colonel,” I assume due to its propensity for satisfying juleps).

You’re supposed to drink the thing really slowly. The ice melts, the mint gets mashed up, the whole thing gets together in that wonderful julep cup (which you’ve wrapped in a linen, because it’s too cold to hold).

Even this simplest of recipes is fantastic. In fact, there’s something so fresh and bright about it, I’m going to call it the morning line favorite for the week. Surprise counts, doesn’t it?

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