Wednesday, July 28, 2010

“One” Mint Julep

From May to October each year, it’s mint julep season at my house, to the delight of us all.
The original meaning of “julep” was a medicinal cocktail of sorts, combining various healing herbs, plants, aromatics and fruits. Those of you reading from back home are already familiar with the mint julep (or your DNA is); those of you here in Montreal are surely familiar with the Gibeau Orange Julep restaurant, whose foamy, fresh-squeezed orange juice gives the restaurant its name.
Mint juleps are indeed powerful medicine. They are served in little metal cups made of silver, pewter or aluminium which keep them delightfully cold.
A julep’s deliciousness can surprise some drinkers, even those who hold their liquor well, causing them to need a restorative nap on the couch before they can stagger into the taxi home.

An old friend said it well after his first sip of mint juleps. “Why are these cups so small? Because these are dangerous. I feel like I want to drink a whole pitcher of them, and then pass out in a lawn chair in the sun.”

I have also seen people drink me under the table with my mint juleps, walking out the door at the end of the night on their own two steady feet, and it’s never the ones you’d think. As they say in Spanish, “Los que no corren, vuelan.” (Those who don’t run, fly instead).

Recently, I came across a tune in one of my yellowed old jazz books called “One Mint Julep.”

I wondered to myself, has anyone ever had just ONE mint julep… and not counting the bucket at a Kentucky Derby Bucket Party (where dinner is served from big tin buckets – a bucket of juleps, a bucket of fried chicken, a bucket of potato salad…)

I Googled it the next day, and learned that Ray Charles is one of the artists who has recorded it. How ever did I miss this song? The lyrics tell the story of a man who invited a woman back to his place and all he had to offer was mint juleps… “One mint julep was the cause of it all… I’m done drinking whiskey, ’cause I’ve got six extra children now from getting frisky!”

For those days when I actually need to accomplish something, I also make a version without whiskey – I substitute chilled Yogi Ginger Tea for the bourbon.

My recipe is unconventional, and I’m sure purist bartenders would disapprove, the ones who write long, pissed-off diatribes about martinis and Manhattans and how many drops of Angostura bitters on the Webtender forums. It would be all like, “You’re supposed to muddle the mint… superfine sugar… Kentucky bourbon….”

The thing is, I think my rogue juleps really taste better than the purist juleps with all the muddling and the fancy liquor and powdered sugar. The flavour is smoother and they go down easier. Several roomfuls of people who don't remember the great time we had after a pitcher of juleps would surely agree with me, if their memories would only permit.

I make a cross between simple syrup and “sweet tea” (Southern for iced tea) using mint, Demerara sugar and a touch of ginger. This can be kept in the fridge, which makes the julep colder. It also makes them quicker to make. The infusion, because it tastes more like sweet tea, somehow makes it taste more Southern to me. The Demerara sugar is not overly sweet though, and is evocative of the darker sugars used in Southern cooking like molasses and brown sugar.
My first choice of bourbon is Wild Turkey for its smokiness, but since it's nearly impossible to get in Quebec, I most often use Jack Daniels. (technically "Tennessee sipping whiskey," for the Webtender sticklers out there.)

Mint Julep Syrup
One bunch mint leaves
1½ litres water
1½ cups Demerara sugar
A little peel from a ginger root (keep your peel when you cube ginger forother recipes)
Cut the bottom of the bunch of mint leaves and place them in a large, deep saucepan. (Reserve the pretty tops of the stems for the juleps themselves). Cover with sugar (and ginger root, if using) then water. Bring to a boil, then turn off heat and let steep for 4-6 hours. Strain and keep in the refrigerator. (Theoretically, this will keep for about a month in the refrigerator).
To serve, take a sprig of mint and gently rub it around the bottom of the julep cup to release its aroma. Place in the bottom of the julep cup, or float it on top of the drink.
Fill the cup 1/3 of the way with bourbon or iced Yogi Tea, 1/3 of the way with syrup and fill the rest of the way with ice.

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