If your lips don’t stick to the rim of a silver mint julep cup then you’ve done something wrong. – Warren Bobrow
Real Mint Julep cups are made of sterling silver. They usually have a copper core because as any cook knows, copper conducts both heat and cold like nobody’s business. This makes for a frosty cup of intensely flavored love in your hand. My Mint Julep cups came from New Orleans. They were quite old when I got them back in the early 90s from Lucullus, the culinary antique store on Royal Street. The cups date to the 1930s, as evidenced by their classical design and provenance. Sheridan Silver on copper.
The classically prepared Mint Julep requires a sterling silver cup, because to fully enjoy this cocktail you must have what becomes akin to a frozen snowball of what appears to be molten silver in your hand. Your fingers need to stick to the lustrous metal and your lip needs to experience the stickiness of the frozen cup, connecting you deeply to your cocktail.
The Mint Julep itself is also a rare thing of great inner beauty. I can only assume that by now you’ve polished your venerable cups to a deeply glowing finish with white vinegar and baking soda. This method gives the kind of shine that you’d only see in a fancy jewelry store window that specializes in fine silver. Other methods of polishing may include ketchup. The acidity of the tomato is gentle on the silver. Ketchup may also be used simultaneously as a dipping sauce for a tangle of French Fries while you clean your silver cups. Win, win!
Your filtered water ice is essential and it should glisten like perfect tiny rainbows as you hand crush it in a Lewis Bag. This heavy-duty canvas bag draws all the moisture out of your ice by the nature of the material itself. You can find these bags pretty easily; they are essential to making a perfectly visually gorgeous Mint Julep.
The mint you choose is also equally important to the art of building a Mint Julep. I only use Kentucky Colonel Spearmint. You may have your own favorite. I experimented recently with a Thai variety of mint but this aromatic variety overpowered the cocktail, rendering it undrinkable. Spearmint, especially the varieties from the South, are long held to be the kind that you should use.
Let history guide you!
The sugar you use is also most important. I have long held that the sugar should be brown in color and gritty in texture. Sugar in the Raw is my choice because of the flavor and, while muddling with the mint, the rough sugar releases the oils from the mint in a way that the use of simple syrup cannot. You never want to puree or liquefy the mint into a paste.
It’s just not done!
Finally the bourbon you choose is what makes this cocktail a time-capsule in which all prior Mint Juleps are connected with this frosty cup of memory and perfection. I personally recommend the historic and potent, single barrel bourbon from Four Roses. Four Roses Single Barrel drinks like bourbon from long ago. When woven into a perfectly handcrafted Mint Julep, the Four Roses Single Barrel becomes as memorable as the first time you tasted it. The sugar and the mint take to the smokier elements in a way only gentle sipping can unlock.
A cocktail like the Mint Julep must be imbibed with reverence. Each sip is a deeper connection to the historical nature of this drink. In my memories the Mint Julep will forever connect me with Charleston, South Carolina. My first Mint Julep was enjoyed under the shaded Piazza at the Primerose House, I will never the first persuasive sip or the kind tutelage of my teacher Joann Yaeger.
Just like each Mint Julep I’ve enjoyed ever since, some have been successfully made and others much less so. It’s very easy to destroy a Mint Julep. Use the wrong glass, or slimy mint, or terrible ice – or even lousy bourbon. And it’s destroyed!
Just don’t do it!
It’s important to understand the unique flavor profile of Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon before we get too far off the track of understanding why I chose it for this cocktail.
My tasting notes are as follows:
Deeply spicy cinnamon stick nose gives way to toasty, buttered, hand ground grits rough across your tongue. The brooding alcohol is unmistakable and it teaches you to slow down when sipping this revered whiskey. The midrange is all at once toasted walnuts and wildflower honeycomb – raw honey at that! The toasty-pepper element comes into play nearly immediately with a minutes long finish that speaks of time in the cask. Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon when woven into a Mint Julep is a fantasy drink for me, because once my own bottle is gone, it’s gone! There are only so many bottles that come out of a barrel of bourbon. Each barrel has its own distinction in flavor and character. Each sip is something different, a history lesson in each metered sip.
Each bottle is made with care and love.
The Classic Mint Julep
Serves one. Make one for your friend and then one for yourself – Mind your manners!
- 3 oz. Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon
- Several Mint Leaves (I use the Kentucky Colonel variety), plus a nice washed sprig for your garnish
- 2 teaspoons “Sugar in the Raw”
- Really great ice crushed in a Lewis Bag. I filter my water for ice through a Mavea “Inspired Water” pitcher
- That perfectly polished, sterling silver Julep cup that belonged to your favorite grandpappy.
Pick through the mint and wash it carefully drying each leaf.
Place about a tablespoon of them in your sterling silver cup.
Add 1 teaspoon of the sugar in the raw.
Muddle with the sugar just to release the oils use a wooden spoon.. NEVER use metal on silver!
Add a bit of your ice.
Then a bit of the Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon.
Then add a bit more ice.
Then a bit more sugar.
Then a bit more bourbon stirring gently all the while frosting up your cup in a most extraordinary manner. Keep stirring until the cup is white with frost and your lip sticks to the cup when tasted!
Garnish with a sprig of mint.
Drink to the history of Four Roses Bourbon. It’s gorgeous stuff!
I’ll rue the day that you serve this drink in a go cup!