An excellent mint julep. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

In honor of the noble city of Charleston, SC, which I sadly depart today, I repost a drink I associate with the South. I had a rather tough go with my first julep experience (below), but I’ve come to regard it as one of my favorite cocktails, especially now as the mint has sprouted and the weather has warmed.

I must must must thank four souls who have made this thirteen-hour shoot not seem like even an eight-hour day, owing to the fact that they have been spending eighteen-hour days prepping out the six demos I’m filming for Le Creuset.

These souls are, of course, the cooks.

Nick Garcia, sous chef at Kiawah Island Club. He’s been the ace chef de cuisine. On the other end Tyler Osteen (@jtosteen), jack of all or at least some or at least a couple trades, who appeared with a Stella for me tonight when it was most needed, when he wasn’t washing dishes or cutting food. Brad Norton, up to interesting food biz down here that I look forward to writing about in full soon (Revival Foods), and last but not least, the lovely Maya Morrill. You know those positive forces, the kind of soul who finds something to smile and laugh about while juggling seventeen different pizzas in two unfamiliar uncalibrated ovens, pizzas that don’t even have to taste good, only look perfect on cue, now! She is a private chef, food stylist, demo specialist (word!), and singer songwriter.

Is it any wonder cooks are more often than not the best souls on earth?

This julep’s for you, guys. (For godsake, stay away from writers.) —MR

Mint Juleps, the Good and the Bad

Originally posted May 18, 2012

My first mint julep was made for me by a guy who remains one of my dearest friends and confidants. We were wayward, then, but he has gone on to be a talented and superlative writer, generally. Having at the time (1987) a Kentucky girlfriend and having recently spent four years at Tulane, he knew his juleps.

The night ended badly. Blown speakers at my girlfriend’s apartment and roof tar all over her nice wood floors—she was pissed, and I staggered out into the early spring sunshine. On the subway home the next morning from 110th and Amsterdam to 39th and 1st—wouldn’t you know it—I heard, “Michael?!” An old high school girlfriend had spotted me, my first kiss actually, and still dear friend. She picked lint out of my unshaved face and, with concern and disappointment, told me I needed to get some rest.

My apartment was chained shut so I had to knock. Billie Holiday was on the speakers. An unclad, unfamiliar female form crossed what I could see through the crack. My roommate, the mint julep maker, opened the door scratching his head apologetically. I told him my mother was arriving in hours, get the woman out. He told me, “She’s eating a sandwich.” I repeated my request. He paid the woman and asked her to leave. My roommate was unclear on exact details. I found gum wrappers in my sheets.

The next julep I had, several years later, was at the Oak Room, with the woman who would become my wife and has been a decidedly better influence on me. It was an August afternoon and hot, but the Oak Room was cool and dark, and Donna said, “Wouldn’t a mint julep be perfect?” We asked our server. He returned saying that the bar didn’t have any mint but surely there must be a sprig somewhere in The Plaza Hotel, and they were scouring it now. The juleps, only slightly delayed, were delivered proudly by the server. The server was duly thanked and generously tipped for his extra effort. They were perfect. Donna and I left the Oak Room, hand in hand, giddily in love.

Interesting how stories come readily attached to specific drinks.

Today, with springtime in full flush, the mint already plentiful—mint is excellent to have on hand, but it’s a weed, so be careful where you plant it—juleps will be the evening cocktail. Traditionally, a mint julep is nothing more than mint muddled with sugar, combined with bourbon and ice.

I’ve enhanced this one. I pulverize the mint in a mortar and pestle with sugar and a little of the bourbon, then add the bourbon, let it sit a few minutes to absorb the mint, then strain it over ice. Pulverizing it gives the drink extra spiciness. I then give it a squeeze of lemon to balance the sugar. I missed the Kentucky Derby this year, but I don’t have to miss the mint julep.

An Excellent Mint Julep

  • 10–12 broad leaves of mint, plus a sprig for garnish
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 3 ounces Maker’s Mark (or bourbon of your choice)
  • Lemon wedge
    1. Combine the mint, sugar, and 1/2 ounce of bourbon in a mortar and pulverize it with a pestle.
    2. Add the remaining bourbon and let it rest while you ready a lowball glass with ice.
    3. Strain the bourbon over the ice (I actually strained it into a 2-cup measuring glass because my mortar and pestle is so big and heavy, then poured it over the ice). Press the mint in the strainers to squeeze as much liquid out as possible. Squeeze in some lemon juice.

Serves 1 (1 is just right, 2 is too many, 3, as I learned in New York, is never enough).

 

If you liked this post on the mint julep, check out these other links:

© 2013 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2013 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

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13 Wonderful responses to “Friday Cocktail Hour: Mint Julep”

  • Gayle

    Oh, no. I don’t think I have ever disagreed with a single thing you’ve said on this terrific site. Until now. Crushed ice, dear sir. Crushed. There are many things about a julep that can be messed with (lemon wedge; mint or otherwise-infused simple syrup; high ball vs low ball vs julep cup; coganc, peaches, ginger running around in there) but at its heart, it’s a big, wonderful bourbon slushie. And that means crushed ice.
    If you (and Donna!) are in D.C. any time soon, the first round of mint juleps at the Round Robin is on me.

    • Matt

      YIKES!!! This is scary! What did you do to the Mint Julep?! NO Silver cup, brusing the mint, no crushed ice. A lemon wedge? Sacrilege! Enjoy your stuff very very much. However, perhaps mint juleps are best left to us southerners. :)

    • Ed

      Yes, “mint of the good kind”. The original post had comments about “Kentucky Colonel” mint. I was disappointed with the mint in my garden and decided to try the Kentucky Colonel variety. Let me be another to wholeheartedly endorse Kentucky Colonel. Makes wonderful juleps and mojitos.

  • Allen

    Your cocktail post always get full attention, even the repost, I love to re read the comments (excluding my own).
    The original post of the mint julep had a link in the coments to a video in the bar of the New Orleans Ritz Carlton, with a veteran bartender that made a show, and a great presentation of the classic on his last day, of many days serving there.
    I do my own version (sans the main ingredient, his dialogue) with a hammer and towel for crushing the ice, thinking of that amazing performance honoring a lovely beverage.

    Anything with bourbon qualifies as a lovely beverage.

    Even a single shot.
    Cheers, happy Friday all!

  • Shaggywillis

    I love forward to your cocktail posts each Friday and a group of my friends and I get together each Friday to sample your choice. Pretty excited about this one. I spent a lot of time in Louisville and in New Orleans and I always enjoy a julep or two each summer.

    Looking forward to this evening in Chicago.

  • Mark Head

    I’ve always steeped a bunch of fresh mint for 24-48 hours in warm simple syrup. Strain out the mint. Use the favored syrup one-to-one with bourbon, pour over finely crushed ice, serve in a sterling julep cup, and garnish with fresh mint. That’s the Louisville way.

  • Natalie Luffer Sztern

    Have a cute story. Alcohol is only allowed to be bought from SAQ Quebec. They don’t give bags to carry the booze in. So walking through the mall carrying in my hand a bottle of Maker’s Mark Bourbon I kept getting stopped by both Men and Women. Apparently Bourbon is not familiar to the taste buds that surrounded me, but I was able to give each of them your simple Recipe for a Mint Julep. I memorized it. Boy if I had a buck for every stop I’d have 20 bucks. Imagine what I could have done with your Blog cards!! )

  • Don

    I hate to pile on, but by crushing or pulverizing the mint, you are getting the chlorophyll from the mint, not just the oil, creating a completely different drink. Only after I met Chris McMillian in person did I understand exactly the right way to do this. Gentle with the mint, just a bit on the nose. You don’t want the whole drink tasting grassy.

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