On the Julep

A dram of spirituous liquor that has mint steeped in it, taken by Virginians of a morning.

The Mint Julep is rumored to have led to as many arguments over the nature of the drink as the Martini, if not more since it’s a Southern invention and we’re pugnacious folk. Also like the Martini, some recipes abandon the pretense that there’s more than spirit in the drink, most notably the following by Henry Watterson.

Pluck the mint gently from its bed, just as the dew of the evening is about to form upon it. Select the choicer sprigs only, but do not rinse them. Prepare the simple syrup and measure out a half-tumbler of whiskey. Pour the whiskey into a well-frosted silver cup, throw the other ingredients away and drink the whiskey.

Mr. Watterson’s recipe is humorous, much like the humor in glancing at the vermouth while pouring the gin, but the ceremony obvious in the first part of the recipe is typical.

Eric Felten tells an amusing account of Roosevelt v. Newett which serves to highlight that a julep is more than just the Mint Julep. It’s a whole class of drinks. Whereas a cocktail in simple form is any spirit, sugar, water, and bitters, the julep is any spirit, sugar, crushed or shaved ice, and lots of garnish. And sometimes without the spirit: It started in Persia as rose water, جلاب, then slowly evolved into a medicinal concoction in Europe, and on to something worth drinking in America. The recipes compiled at Webtender offer a nice sample of juleps, as does CocktailDB. What distinguishes a julep from a smash? Quantity. Details are to be found in Jerry Thomas’s How to Mix Drinks, David Wondrich’s Imbibe!, and a couple of tomes dedicated entirely to the Mint Julep.

You’ll want to watch Chris McMillian hold forth.

Mint Julep

  • mint
  • 1 tsp. fine sugar
  • splash of water
  • 2 oz. fine bourbon. All right, maybe 4 oz. It’s a hot day. Adjust the size of your glass as necessary.
  • ice
  • more ice

Build, with the care you used in holding your first child.

Gently, ever so gently, pluck 12 or so leaves from freshly cut sprigs of mint, and place in the bottom of your glass. Add one bar spoon of fine sugar and a splash of water. Press together gently — you’re not making a mojito — enough to dissolve the sugar in the water and distribute the mint oils around the glass.

Crush some ice. No, that’s not enough. Crush some more. Now crush it again. The bourbon will be cradled in this finely crushed ice.

Place a spoon in your glass, then pile the ice on top of the mint and sugar, leaving about a half inch free. Pour the bourbon over the ice and stir gently. A frost will form on the outside of the glass. Remove the spoon and add more ice. Slap a sprig of mint between your hands and add to the glass as garnish.

Enjoy. “They are, in fact, like the American ladies, irresistible.”

Honey Lime Toddy

We are fresh out of lemons, so I made a hot toddy this afternoon using my standard recipe but substituting lime for the lemon.

Honey Lime Toddy

  • 1 oz. honey
  • 1 oz. lime juice
  • 1 oz. bourbon
  • 6 oz. boiling water

Build in a mug. Stir the honey, lemon, and whiskey and a splash of hot water together until the honey is completely dissolved, then add the remaining water and stir again.

Orange Bourbon Toddy

The girls made a pumpkin bundt cake the other day, which called for an orange syrup. I had some left over, and tonight made a hot toddy. Several others in the house are sick or getting sick. I’m not yet, but it seemed appropriate.

To make the orange syrup, mix 1/4 cup of orange juice with 1/2 cup of sugar over low heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. After the sugar has dissolved, boil for two minutes, then remove from the heat. Allow to coil before refrigerating.

Orange Bourbon Toddy

  • 3 tsp. orange syrup
  • 1 1/4 oz. bourbon
  • 8 oz. (1 c.) boiling water

Build in a mug. Stir to blend.

The mug I used holds 12 oz. Your mug may be smaller or larger. Adjust as necessary.

Buffalo Trace Bourbon Marinade

  • 1/4 c. Buffalo Trace Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey
  • 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 tsp. fresh ground pepper

Combine the ingredients, then let your meat soak in it for several hours before grilling, turning every now and again to ensure that the meat is covered. I just put the flank steak for tonight and the marinade in a Ziplock freezer bag. They’ll sit in the refrigerator for the next eight hours.

A Spirit, Sugar, Water, and Bitters

This week I have been concentrating on the Old Fashioned, varying which bourbon I use, which bitters, which garnish, and the balance of sugar and water. I should, however, stop saving this last cherry for the next Rob Roy. The drinks are very different, just by varying the bourbon.

the ingredients

Tuthilltown Hudson Baby Bourbon Whiskey, at 46% ABV and made entirely of New York corn, is very smooth, and obviously corn. There’s a sweetness to it that’s not unlike fresh grilled corn on the cob. Given one word to use, I would characterize this whiskey as simple.

Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Whiskey — 45% ABV and made from Kentucky and Indiana corn, rye, and malted barley — is more complicated. I’m not quite sure how to describe it.

For each, I’ve used Gilway Demerara sugar cubes, picked up at my local grocer. The grocer also stocks Domino sugar cubes, but I usually prefer the taste of demerara or turbinado sugar. The cube was soaked with two to three dashes of either Angostura Orange Bitters or Angostura Aromatic Bitters. Careful with the dashes from the aromatic bitters bottle; the hole is larger than that on the orange bitters. The recipe as given previously calls for the aromatic bitters, which have a complex flavor and smell a bit like nutmeg. The orange bitters smell like fresh orange peel. Either pairs nicely with the slice of orange used as garnish. The orange bitters will obviously enhance the orangeness of the drink. Water sufficient to barely top the sugar cube was added, and then the sugar muddled until thoroughly dissolved.

Ice was added, then the chosen bourbon, and the glass garnished with a slice of orange.

One must test the results. Both bitters work well with both bourbons, but I prefer the orange bitters with the Hudson Baby Bourbon, and the aromatic with Buffalo Trace.

A Highland Fling

Suppose you’ve become infatuated with Rob Roy

Rob Roy

Stir in mixing glass with ice & strain

  • 1 3/4 oz Scotch (5 cl, 7/16 gills)
  • 3/4 oz sweet vermouth (2 cl, 3/16 gills)
  • 1 dash orange bitters or Angostura bitters

Add cherry

Serve in a cocktail glass

and decide to have a Highland fling

Highland Fling

Stir in mixing glass with ice & strain

  • 1 3/4 oz Scotch (5 cl, 7/16 gills)
  • 3/4 oz sweet vermouth (2 cl, 3/16 gills)
  • 2 dashes orange bitters

Add olive

Serve in a cocktail glass

What comes after a Highland fling with Rob Roy? The bairn o’ course.

The Bairn

Stir in mixing glass with ice & strain

  • 2 oz Scotch (6 cl, 1/2 gills)
  • 1/2 oz Cointreau (1.5 cl, 1/8 gills)
  • 1 dash orange bitters
  • Serve in a cocktail glass

Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned is probably not a drink you want to order where you can’t see them fix it, and thus are unable to correct mistakes made in the preparation. I had a sickly sweet one on Mother’s Day, and wouldn’t recommend the experience to anyone. Don Draper, in an episode from season three of Mad Men, “My Old Kentucky Home,” builds his in a more old fashioned way, but he’s not tending my bar; I am, and I do the same.

Old Fashioned

In an old fashioned, or rocks, glass place a half cube of sugar. Soak the sugar with two to three dashes of Angostura bitters. Add a splash, if that, of water. Muddle until the sugar is completely dissolved in the bitters. Add two ounces of bourbon, and some ice. Garnish with any or all of a cherry, an orange slice, and a lemon wedge.

Amusingly enough, YouTube has Rachel Maddow building hers similarly. (Maybe if I make a video I can get a great gig on MSNBC too!) If you prefer your bartender in a vest, here’s Chris McMillian, of the Library Lounge at the Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans.

I’ll take a Manhattan

After a late, or early for me, arrival home from the office, I fried up a pair of cheeseburgers. I’m not quite ready to drink the Budweiser I have in the house, so what cocktail might go with a cheeseburger?

A Hamburger Today asks the same question, but didn’t answer it so much as review some hamburgers at two cocktail bars, and I’ll certainly not try this Whiskeyburger documented by Esquire. Of course, Jimmy Buffett might recommend a margarita, in the absence of Landshark Lager, with one’s cheeseburger in paradise.

Perhaps a Manhattan?


Stir in mixing glass with ice

Strain into a a cocktail glass and garnish with a cherry.