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8 Bars Mixing Up Mold-Breaking Mint Juleps

The mint julep may be most associated with the Kentucky Derby, but that doesn't mean you can't order one any other day of the year. The refreshing Southern cocktail, best enjoyed on a lazy summer day, isn’t anything fancy—it’s basically just crushed ice, a hefty pour of bourbon, muddled mint, and simple syrup—which makes it ripe for creative interpretations. And bars across the country are getting into the spirit with innovative twists on the traditional. In honor of this month's National Mint Julep Day, celebrated May 30, here are eight bars, both below and above the Mason Dixon line, mixing up mint juleps worth traveling for.

1. DOC CROW’S SOUTHERN SMOKEHOUSE & RAW BAR // LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY

If you’re based in bourbon-centric Louisville, and your downtown location is colloquially known as “Whiskey Row,” then you’re pretty much obligated to serve an out-of-this-world julep. Doc Crow’s, with its signature “Near Eastern Julep,” delivers and then some. Bartenders here start with plenty of crushed ice and Old Grand-Dad bottled-in-bond bourbon, add in ginger-infused simple syrup and Becherovka, an herbal bitter with a spicy-bittersweet twist, and substitute basil for the usual mint. Sip your poison at the bar, or grab a table with friends and pair it with a Southern specialty like shrimp and cheddar grits, Texas-style brisket, or fried pork chops.

2. PARLIAMENT // DALLAS

Creative cocktails are always on the menu at Parliament, but this beloved Dallas haunt loves to elevate their menu for special occasions. To celebrate the Derby this year, they rolled out five special Kentucky-inspired cocktails, including the Southern Belle, a revivifying riff on the traditional julep. Rhubarb sugar and strawberry-infused Maker's Mark bourbon combine with lots of mint for an extra-refreshing flavor—perfect for keeping cool in the Texas heat. (And on those rare occasions when the sun isn't shining, not to worry —Parliament offers happy hour deals not only from 5 to 8 p.m. daily, but any time it's raining outside!)

3. JULEP // HOUSTON, TEXAS

Meanwhile, down in Houston, bar proprietor Alba Huerta—the recipient of many awards and accolades for her inventive drinks—is such a fan of the classic cocktail that she named her establishment simply Julep. Designed to spotlight the best of Southern comfort food, you'll find plenty of fried oysters, pulled pork, and yes, mint juleps. Since it opened in 2014, Julep has spotlighted many versions of its namesake drink—like its headline-grabbing Sparkling Julep, made with Gamay bubbly, cognac, mint, and turbinado syrup—although its classic julep, with its blend of Four Roses and JW Dant bonded-in-bottle bourbons, plus turbinado to add a gentle hint of molasses-style sweetness, never goes out of style.

4. THE LEADBELLY // NEW YORK CITY

This heralded Lower East Side joint serves up oysters from both coasts, along with a selection of well-curated small plates, all the better to enjoy with a thirst-quenching julep. Leadbelly bartender Colin Asare-Appiah told Town & Country magazine he was inspired to give the bourbon-and-mint sipper a 21st-century makeover after reading up on the centuries-old drink. "Research showed me that there were gin, genever, and cognac varieties," he said. "Vodka has been the modern-day hero of the cocktail bar scene, and so I decided to use a well-crafted vodka and add fresh spearmint with cucumber." Can’t make it to NYC anytime soon? The recipe is available online so you can still try the invigorating vodka-cucumber concoction at home.

5. KINGFISH // NEW ORLEANS

Beloved fourth-generation bartender Chris McMillian, arguably the nation’s foremost julep maker, may no longer helm the bar at this French Quarter institution, but his legendary juleps live on in the more-than-ample hands of current lead bartender Justin Gerhmann. Bourbon and peaches are natural allies—peach brandy was often used as the base for juleps mixed in the 1800s—and the Kingfish version celebrates that delectable pairing by combining peach syrup with Maker’s Mark bourbon and mint.

6. BLUDSO’S BAR & QUE // LOS ANGELES

Located just a few blocks south of Santa Monica Boulevard, Bludso's Bar & Que caters to Angelenos with a taste for big Texas BBQ flavor. Recently earning the top spot in LA.Eater’s list of essential barbecue spots in the area, the family-owned restaurant is beloved for its authentic, slow-smoked ribs, brisket, chicken, and more. Naturally you'll need something to wash all that down with, and while Bludso's boasts plenty of craft beers and local wines, don't skip their juleps, which are pre-kegged and—quite delightfully—served on draft. The boozy treat is made with Evan Williams bourbon (a Louisville favorite) and, despite the unusual on-tap twist, is still served traditionally in a silver cup with heaps of crushed ice.

7. TEDDY & THE BULLY BAR // WASHINGTON, D.C.

This Dupont Circle tribute to our gallant 26th president claims to serve all that Roosevelt held dear, gastronomically speaking (think steaks, fried chicken, house-made cornbread, and, of course, wild-game dishes starring bison, boar, and venison). Their cocktail list, though, is where Teddy & the Bully Bar really shines, serving classic drinks inspired by “the golden era of American cocktails,” or roughly the period between the early 1800s right up to Prohibition. The chicly appointed interior, with its faux taxidermy, gas-powered light fixtures, and restored antique stove, is the perfect setting to sip on Teddy’s berry-licious julep, which combines Woodford mint-infused bourbon, fresh mint, and strawberry shrub.

8. FIG & OLIVE // CHICAGO

As its name suggests, Fig & Olive is best known for their Mediterranean cuisine and love of all things olive—they swap out butter for olive oil in nearly all their recipes—but their creativity doesn't end with food. Originally based in New York but now with eight locations across the country, this upscale dining experience features a plethora of classic cocktails with a decidedly modern twist. Their Chicago location features a Fig & Walnut Julep, which begins with Four Roses bourbon but then turns the usual julep recipe on its head. Elderflower liqueur, muddled black figs, citrus, and shaved-walnut garnish transform this front-porch-sipping Southern staple into a Mediterranean medley.

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Let Alexa Help You Brine a Turkey This Thanksgiving
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There’s a reason most of us only cook turkey once a year: The bird is notoriously easy to overcook. You could rely on gravy and cranberry sauce to salvage your dried-out turkey this Thanksgiving, or you could follow cooking advice from the experts.

Brining a turkey is the best way to guarantee it retains its moisture after hours in the oven. The process is also time-consuming, so do yourself a favor this year and let Alexa be your sous chef.

“Morton Brine Time” is a new skill from the cloud-based home assistant. If you own an Amazon Echo you can download it for free by going online or by asking Alexa to enable it. Once it’s set up, start asking Alexa for brining tips and step-by-step recipes customized to the size of your turkey. Two recipes were developed by Richard Blais, the celebrity chef and restaurateur best known for his Top Chef win and Food Network appearances.

Whether you go for a wet brine (soaking your turkey in water, salt, sugar, and spices) or a dry one (just salt and spices), the process isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. And the knowledge that your bird will come out succulent and juicy will definitely take some stress out of the holiday.

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Why Your Traditional Thanksgiving Should Include Oysters
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If you want to throw a really traditional Thanksgiving dinner, you’ll need oysters. The mollusks would have been featured prominently on the holiday tables of the earliest American settlers—even if that beloved Thanksgiving turkey probably wasn’t. At the time, oysters were supremely popular additions to the table for coastal colonial settlements, though in some cases, they were seen as a hardship food more than a delicacy.

For one thing, oysters were an easy food source. In the Chesapeake Bay, they were so plentiful in the 17th and 18th centuries that ships had to be careful not to run aground on oyster beds, and one visitor in 1702 wrote that they could be pulled up with only a pair of tongs. Native Americans, too, ate plenty of oysters, occasionally harvesting them and feasting for days.

Early colonists ate so many oysters that the population of the mollusks dwindled to dangerously low levels by the 19th century, according to curriculum prepared by a Gettysburg University history professor. In these years, scarcity turned oysters into a luxury item for the wealthy, a situation that prevailed until the 1880s, when oyster production skyrocketed and prices dropped again [PDF]. If you lived on the coast, though, you were probably still downing the bivalves.

Beginning in the 1840s, canning and railroads brought the mollusks to inland regions. According to 1985's The Celebrated Oysterhouse Cookbook, the middle of the 19th century found America in a “great oyster craze,” where “no evening of pleasure was complete without oysters; no host worthy of the name failed to serve 'the luscious bivalves,' as they were actually called, to his guests.”

At the turn of the century, oysters were still a Thanksgiving standard. They were on Thanksgiving menus everywhere from New York City's Plaza Hotel to train dining cars, in the form of soup, cocktails, and stuffing.

In 1954, the Fish and Wildlife Service tried to promote Thanksgiving oysters to widespread use once again. They sent out a press release [PDF], entitled “Oysters—a Thanksgiving Tradition,” which included the agency’s own recipes for cocktail sauce, oyster bisque, and oyster stuffing.

In the modern era, Thanksgiving oysters have remained most popular in the South. Oyster stuffing is a classic dish in New Orleans, and chefs like Emeril Lagasse have their own signature recipes. If you’re not looking for a celebrity chef’s recipe, perhaps you want to try the Fish and Wildlife Service’s? Check it out below.

Oyster Stuffing

INGREDIENTS

1 pint oysters
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup butter
4 cups day-old bread cubes
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt
Dash poultry seasoning
Dash pepper

Drain oysters, saving liquor, and chop. Cook celery and onion in butter until tender. Combine oysters, cooked vegetables, bread cubes, and seasonings, and mix thoroughly. If stuffing seems dry, moisten with oyster liquor. Makes enough for a four-pound chicken.

If you’re using a turkey, the FWS advises that the recipe above provides enough for about every five pounds of bird, so multiply accordingly.

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