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7 Tricks from Bartenders on How to Make a Better Mint Julep

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While the Kentucky Derby may have passed, there’s no time like the present to enjoy one of the sport’s most deliciously iconic, refreshing drinks: the mint julep. Especially when the present—May 30—is Mint Julep Day. To celebrate the holiday, we’ve compiled tips, tricks and recipes from bartenders across the country, including the mint julep’s home state of Kentucky.

1. DON'T OVER-MUDDLE THE MINT.

Muddling is one of the most important steps in the mint julep process, according to James Bolt, beverage director and bar manager at The Gin Joint in Charleston, South Carolina. But don’t just start pounding away; first, you must understand the process.

“Most people think muddling is the hard pounding motion of breaking up and releasing the flavor, but such force will release a bitter compound,” says Bolt. “The key is to gently press on the mint leaves so the natural oils are released.”

2. SAVOR THE SMELLS.

The mint julep is as much about flavor as it is smell. To capitalize on the mint’s inherently strong scent, Bolt suggests placing your head as close to the straw as possible to soak up the aromas. Cincinnati’s most respected mixologist, Molly Wellmann, also recommends placing the straw directly down the middle of the mint sprig to further excite the senses.

3. RUB THE GLASS.

Take the sensory overload one tasteful step further by rubbing the glass with mint leaves prior to pouring the drink. This trick belongs to Keri Smith, head bartender at Doc Crow’s Southern Smokehouse & Raw Bar in Louisville, Kentucky. By rubbing the glass, the mint’s oils last longer, adding that strong, minty aroma to each and every sip.

4. USE FRESH, CRUSHED ICE.

While ice is usually an afterthought, it’s of utmost importance when it comes to the mint julep. Pros like Bolt and Wellmann opt for freshly crushed ice rather than the standard cubed variety, but rest assured: Even if you don’t have a fancy ice-crushing machine, you can still make a mean mint julep.

“Use a Lewis bag and a mallet, or a shaker and a muddler,” Wellmann says. “Just be sure to use crushed ice!”

5. “EXPERI-MINT” WITH ALTERNATIVE INGREDIENTS.

Sure, the drink’s called a mint julep, but you don’t have to stick solely to mint. Smith has a number of unconventional mint julep concoctions at Doc Crow’s, such as a mint julep lemonade and a Near Easter Julep that substitutes basil for mint, and includes ginger for warmth and spice.

6. BRING OUT THE BIG BOURBONS.

A high-class drink deserves high-quality liquor. Fred Minnick, the Kentucky Derby Museum’s bourbon authority and drinks historian, suggests using high-proof bourbons that “will stand up to the ice and stick out.” His favorites are Baker’s Bourbon, a seven-year-old, 107-proof whiskey from Jim Beam, or 107-proof Old Weller Antique, the only accessible wheated bourbon that can handle the mint julep’s ice.

7. ADD A SPLASH OF RUM.

Why should bourbon have all the fun? Wellmann likes to spice things up, topping off her mint juleps with a little dark rum to bring out the drink’s caramel and vanilla notes.

As you prepare your own concoctions to celebrate today’s national holiday, here are two recipes to get you well on your way to mint julep perfection.

The Gin Joint Mint Julep, courtesy of James Bolt

2 ozs Old Grand-Dad Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon (or customer’s bourbon of choice)
.5 oz Demerara simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
10-12 fresh mint leaves

Add the mint leaves to a Julep tin and gently muddle to extract essential oils. Then add the Demerara syrup, bourbon and Angostura bitters. Fill the julep tin with crushed ice and shape in to a snow cone of ice on top. Gently garnish with slapped mint and a straw.

Doc Crow’s Near Eastern Julep, courtesy of Keri Smith

2 ozs Old Grand-Dad Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon
.5 oz Becherovka
.5 oz ginger syrup
Basil leaves

In a double old fashioned glass, rub basil leaves along inside. Add ingredients to glass. Fill glass with crushed ice, swizzle with bar spoon for five seconds. Garnish with slapped basil leaf.

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Former NECCO CEO Has a Plan to Save the Company

It’s been a month of ups and downs for fans of candy company NECCO and its iconic sugary Wafers. In March, The Boston Globe reported the company is in desperate need of a buyer and that CEO Michael McGee notified the state of Massachusetts that most of their employees—around 395 of them—would likely face layoffs if a suitor isn't found by May.

That news caused a bit of a panic among candy lovers, who stormed CandyStore.com to hoard packs and packs of NECCO Wafers, should the company go under. In the weeks since the news about NECCO’s uncertain fate hit, sales of the company's products went up by 82 percent, with the Wafers alone increasing by 150 percent.

Seeing the reaction and knowing there is still plenty of space in the market for the venerable NECCO Wafers, the company’s former CEO, Al Gulachenski, reached out to CandyStore.com to lay out his plan to save the brand—most notably the Wafers and Sweethearts products.

The most important part of the plan is the money he’ll need to raise. Gulachenski is set to raise $5 to $10 million privately, and he’s creating a GoFundMe campaign for $20 million more to get his plan into motion. Once the funding is secure, the company will move to a new factory in Massachusetts that allows them to retain key executives and as many other employees as they can.

“I can promise you that if you donate you will own a piece of NECCO as I will issue shares to everyone that contributes money,” Gulachenski wrote on the GoFundMe page. “This company has been in our back yard for 170 years and it's time we own it.”

Gulachenski also elaborated that, as of now, there is another buyer interested in NECCO, but that buyer “is planning to liquidate the company, fire all the employees and close the doors of NECCO forever!”

So far, Gulachenski has raised only $565 of the $20 million needed. “I know it seems like a long way to go but I do expect some institutions to jump on board and get us most of the way there,” Gulachenski wrote in a GoFundMe update. “It is also likely we can get most of the company if we get to half of our goal.”

There is still a bit of a sour taste for candy fans to swallow, even if NECCO does get saved. According to Gulachenski, the Wafers and the Sweethearts may be the only products that the reorganized NECCO continues with. This could leave lovers of the company's other candies, like Clark Bars and Sky Bars, out in the cold.

“The sugar component Necco Wafer and Sweetheart is certainly the most nostalgic and recognizable brand, more than the chocolate,” Gulachenski told The Boston Globe. “It’s all going to depend how they decide to sell the company and liquidate.”

While you can still order the Wafers in bulk from Candystore.com, the site itself even says it has no idea when or if shipments will stop coming, especially as NECCO's future remains uncertain.

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The Latest Way to Enjoy Pho in Vietnam: As a Cocktail
James Duong, AFP/Getty Images
James Duong, AFP/Getty Images

Pho is something of a national dish in Vietnam. The noodle soup, typically topped with beef or chicken, can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. There’s even a version of it for happy hour, as Lonely Planet reports.

The pho cocktail, served at Nê Cocktail Bar in Hanoi, contains many of the herbs and spices found in pho, like cinnamon, star anise, cilantro, and cardamom. Without the broth or meat, its taste is refreshingly sweet.

The drink's uniqueness makes it a popular choice among patrons, as does the dramatic way it's prepared. The bartender pours gin and triple sec through the top of a tall metal apparatus that contains three saucers holding the spices. He then lights the saucers on fire with a hand torch as the liquid flows through, allowing the flavors to infuse with the alcohol as the drink is filtered into a pitcher below.

The pho cocktail
James Duong, AFP/Getty Images

Pham Tien Tiep, who was named Vietnam’s best bartender at the Diageo Reserve World Class cocktail competition in 2012, created the cocktail six years ago while working at the famous French Colonial-era hotel the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi, according to AFP. He has since brought his signature drink to several of the stylish bars he owns in Vietnam’s capital, including Nê Cocktail Bar.

Initially, he set out to create a drink that would represent Vietnam’s culture and history. “I created the pho cocktail at the Metropole Hotel, just above the war bunkers where the American musician Joan Baez sang to the staff and guests in December 1972 as bombs fell on the city,” Tiep told Word Vietnam magazine. “The alcohol in the cocktail is lit on fire to represent the bombs, while spices, such as chili and cinnamon, reflect the warmness of her voice.”

Tiep has a reputation for infusing his drinks with unusual local ingredients. He has also created a cocktail that features fish sauce, a popular condiment in Vietnam, and another that contains capsicum, chili, and lemongrass in an ode to the bo luc lac (shaking beef) dish, according to CNN.

[h/t Lonely Planet]

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