Ever since I started drinking bourbon, the mint julep has had a strange, almost mystical appeal. I love mint. I love bourbon. So I would surely love the mint julep. It seemed like the promised land of refreshment. Two beautiful things, with just a hint of sugar, blending together to create something sublime. I had to love it.
I do love it, to a point. When I mixed it, there has always been something that just didn’t quite add up about the julep. It wasn’t that it was bad per se, but it left me with the feeling that there was something more out there. I told myself that I was simply mixing them wrong. Over the past few summers I had spent countless hours playing with the degree to which I smashed the mint and the amount of sugar. Every brand of bourbon I have ever purchased has been used at least once in a julep. I had settled, most recently, on Buffalo Trace, convinced that there was no where else to go. The perfect julep, to my palate, was not to be.
But the julep, as Wondrich reminds, was not always a whiskey thing. Indeed, it was first a brandy cocktail. He provides a recipe for a brandy julep, “The Prescription Julep” in Imbibe! And lo! Brandy is the theme of this month’s Mixology Monday. It’s hosted over at SLOSHED! Be sure to check the comment thread for good advice on which brands to drink neat.
The Prescription Julep
1/2 oz sugar
1 oz water
1 1/2 oz cognac
1/2 oz rye whiskey
Mint, as you see fit
Dissolve the sugar in the water and muddle the mind in that. Add the cognac, rye, and a good portion of ice. Stir. Garnish with more mint.
Of note: Don’t be afraid of the mint. There is a lot of flavor going on in this drink. It’s surprising how easily the mint can get lost.
I used Seguinot VSOP and Rittenhouse Bonded. The results were the julep I have been searching for. The way that the cognac and rye worked together flat out amazed me. I am always surprised by how well the Rittenhouse plays with just about anything. In this case, the two spirits meshed beautifully, like a Miles Davis and Gil Evans collaboration in a rocks glass.
Having put a couple of these back, I find myself with renewed interest in the julep. Several of the truly classic drinks were once whole categories. The sadly fallible forces of “The Market” eventually whittled them down to a single drink, made in the prescribed manner. Because we all have different palates, it is worth going back and checking out the old ways of mixing these drinks. Someone out there might love the gin julep above all others. Not that this means I’m giving an inch on “appletinis.”
You probably aren’t thinking of a julep as a winter drink, and it really isn’t. But, if you can find yourself some good mint at this time of year (Minneapolis residents, go to Bill’s) give it a try.