Few elixirs capture a sense of place quite like a mint julep in the South. Crisp mint and an invigorating pop of sugary sweetness balance the fragrant magnolias of April and cut through the thick, lazy days of summer. A favorite of Nobel Prize-winning novelist William Faulkner and the official beverage of the Kentucky Derby (May 2-3 at Louisville’s Churchill Downs) since 1938, the mint julep has become synonymous with Southern gentility and the region’s easy-going, porch-sipping culture. It’s something former Louisville resident and current Bourbon Bar mixologist Clay Livingston knows firsthand. “Growing up in Kentucky [where he lived for 26 years], I learned that a mint julep is a sign that spring is here and that the ponies are going to be running.” Here, to celebrate the season and to toast this refreshing Southern fixture, Livingston shares Bourbon Bar’s rendition of the classic sipper. [Photo Credit: Crate & Barrel. Mint julep cup, $14.95]
BOURBON BAR’S MINT JULEP
Yield: 1 drink
6-8 mint leaves
1/2 ounce simple syrup*
2 ounces Bourbon Bar’s private selection Woodford Reserve Bourbon
Muddle the mint with the syrup, then add the bourbon. Add crushed ice. Stir. Top off with soda water. Garnish with a sprig of mint.
*Housemade simple syrup: Mix one part water to one part sugar, bring to a boil, then let cool.
5 TRICKS FROM CLAY LIVINGSTON FOR THE PERFECT MINT JULEP
- Stick with simple syrup. Powdered or granulated sugar will not melt the same way every time.
- Muddle softly. You do not want to destroy the mint, just bruise it.
- Try to use crushed ice even if it’s hand-crushed cubes. The idea of crushed ice is to get the drink super cold and give it the right dilution at the same time.
- Use quality ingredients. Fresh mint and a good mid-range rye bourbon (bourbon with a small amount of rye as the flavoring grain, such as Woodford) are necessary for making this drink good.
- Soda water is optional, but remember that soda will help those first few sips go down easily before the ice has time to melt and will smooth out the drink.
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