The Summertime Smash

The Summertime Smash

Is it summer finally? Are we there yet, Mother Nature?

Up here in the tundra Montreal, the warm weather has been *such* a tease lately. We've had one of those springs where two days of delightful, sun-dappled, sleeve-shedding weather are followed by a near-week of chilly, damp, Debbie Downer-weather.

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The 1792 Kentucky White Dog Julep

So the Triple Crown wound up being a big bust this year. And even though the news is kinda bittersweet/poignant/ironic for us alkies who thought we'd finally found our spirit animal in a horse named I'll Have Another, it's no bigs. Let's keep sippin' juleps all the same. Let's just make 'em stiffer to take the edge off.

Came across this recipe from so-awesome-I-must-slay-him-in-order-to-become-him David Wondrich on Liquor.com and knew we had to try it. Have I ever done a white julep before? Wait... have I never done a white julep before?!? Where's my brain? (Blotto'd on moonshine, obvs.)

Not much to this recipe, but that's as it oughta be, I reckon. Moonshine ain't for fancy-ass pansies. In fact, I suspended a few of my usual julep rules (say that 10 times fast, then read up on what those time-tested rules are for making the World's Greatest Mint Julep here) to follow Wondrich's instructions quite close to the letter. For instance, I did without simple syrup or, better yet (to my mind), mint-infused simple syrup, and sweetened the drink only with granulated sugar and water, which is hard-core, colonial, old-school style. Wondrich says to stir the two together until the sugar's dissolved but I like to have a little granular action in there as it helps grind up the mint when you then muddle it in the sugar water. Take that, man I shall one day destroy.

The 1792 Kentucky White Dog Julep

(As seen on Liquor.com)

2 to 3 ounces Georgia Moon Corn Whiskey

1/2 ounce water

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

6 to 8 mint leaves, plus a sprig to garnish

Stir sugar and water together in highball glass until dissolved. Add leaves, muddle slightly. Pack highball glass with crushed ice, then add whiskey. Stir, add more ice to fill, garnish with mint sprig.

Tasting Notes

As published, Wondrich's recipe calls for any white whiskey that can be called "unaged corn or rye." My much-cherished Georgia Moon is the former. Use a corn whiskey and it'll be a significantly sweeter drink; in fact, it tasted like summery corn on the cob in a way.

Sean was apparently feeling Wondrich-frisky as well when he helped assemble this drink. As you can see by the pics he took, he chose to eschew Wondrich's suggestion of a highball glass and instead poured it into a redneck-apropos Mason jar. (A teeny one at that.)

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The Champagne Julep

I haven't told you yet how I spent my New Year's Eve, have I? Silly me. You're likely kvetching to know what a pretend professional drinker does on Alcoholics' Feast Day. (It's in the Bible, look it up.)

Our evening began early-ish, in the five o'clock hour (it's not just a blog, it's a thing you can do!), with the best pizza in the world and a list of champagne cocktails to make. Earlier, we'd picked up a cheapo bottle of bubbles, and of course to get every penny's worth of the $9.97 you just spent on lowercase-c champagne so embarrassingly embarrassing that I refuse to even mention it by name here, you have to plan for several fizzy drinks at once.

The recipe for this Champagne Julep came out of a cocktail book -- one of the several belonging to Sean's cousins, with whom we crashed over the holidays; it's a whole family of drinkers (what can I say, I know how to pick first husbands) -- but I wish that weren't the case. Because if ever there were a person put on Earth for the purpose of whimsy-ing up a recipe like this off the top of her dainty, demented head, it is me. Dammit, the Champagne Julep should dance nightly in my dreams. "Champagne Julep concocter" is what my tombstone should one day read, except with one word misspelled and no money left in my estate to fix it. Has the past year and change instilled not one inkling in me towards total julep brilliance?

Credit, though: It's a damn good recipe. Simple to the point of self-evident, as any worthwhile julep recipe oughta be. The resulting drink likewise reads organically on the palate. Picture in your mind what a fizzy mint julep might taste like, and so it does. Tastes fun, no?

The Champagne Julep

(From The Complete Book of Mixed Drinks: More Than 1000 Alcoholic and Nonalcoholic Cocktails, by Anthony Dias Blue, with some adjustments and finesses)

About 3 ounces Champagne or sparkling white wine

1 1/2 ounces Buffalo Trace bourbon

4 large mint leaves

1/2 to 1 teaspoon simple syrup (to taste)

Crushed ice

Bunch the mint leaves between thumb and forefinger and give one good tear through the middle of the leaves. Drop into bottom of a tall Collins glass and pour in simple syrup on top, just enough to cover leaves. Muddle well. Add ice roughly to fill glass. Pour in bourbon. Stir very briefly. If necessary/desired, put in more ice at this step to refill to top. Top off with Champagne. Once again, stir briefly. Taste and top off with more simple syrup if desired. Garnish with mint sprig.

Tasting Notes

Obviously, use the best bubbly you can afford. Also, if you're going to go with a wheated (i.e. sweeter) bourbon like Buffalo Trace or Maker's Mark, I'd recommend yin-yanging with a dry champagne. On the flip side, I bet this would taste great with a rye whiskey and a sweet sparkler.

I go into more detail about my little physical tricks I use to properly mix a julep in my World's Greatest Mint Julep post, if you care to read it. Basically, although here I suggest stirring briefly to agitate the drink, my most preferred method of mixing a julep is to make little downward stabbing motions in the glass with a swizzle stick.

I also advocate taking your mint sprig by the stem in one hand and giving it a few smacks against the open palm of your other hand. You'll see this done at high-end cocktail places a lot; it's great for releasing the leaves' aroma.

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The Maple Mint Fizz

How did I never manage to invent the Maple Mint Fizz myself? Why did I have to move to Montreal to discover it?

The answer to the first question is: I did come close with the Martelorre (Maker's, lemon, mint, ginger beer). To answer my second question: Because Le LAB is where everything wonderful, like Maple Mint Fizzes, happens, and also because only in Canada would "our variation of the mojito" include maple syrup.

As a north-of-the-border mojito substitute, the Maple Mint Fizz (I love saying those three words together!) was rotated off LAB's menu with the onset of autumn. But as a south-of-the-border expat, I find fall to be the perfect time to indulge in maple-flavored treats, even if they also call for summertime-y limes and mint leaves.

The lime, in fact, is what makes this cocktail for me, imparting a great, sourtastic, unexpected twist of je-ne-say-wha? If I had ever thought to invent this drink, I'm not sure I would've come up with the lime part. Damn it, LAB, you've done it again.

The Maple Mint Fizz

(Adapted from Le LAB)

2 ounces Maker's Mark bourbon

7-Up

A small handful of mint leaves

A splash or two of lime juice

A splash or two of maple syrup

Take several mint leaves, tear once, and drop into the bottom of a Collins glass. Pour splash of lime juice on top, then cover the whole thing with just-enough maple syrup. Muddle. Fill glass with ice, add Maker's Mark and fill with 7-Up.

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The World's Greatest Mint Julep

Platitude-y as it sounds, the only secret ingredients in the World's Greatest Mint Julep are care and time. There is no rare species of mint to hunt down and you can use pretty much any brand of bourbon you want. Most everyone (myself included) uses Maker's Mark. Woodford Reserve is widely considered to be an appropriate top-shelf upgrade, but that's mostly marketing hype (Woodford being the "official" bourbon of the Kentucky Derby).  A julep's mint and sugar bludgeon subtlety right out of any whiskey. This is not a bad thing. It is, in fact, a most yummy bludgeoning.

I do not advocate making juleps in large batches. What I do when I make an individual mint julep is this. I take pinches of fresh mint leaves and I tear them all in two before dropping them into my julep cup. I do this until the bottom of the cup is covered. Then I pour just enough mint-steeped simple syrup in there to cover the leaves. (To make mint syrup: Make simple syrup on the stove in a pot. The moment you hit boiling, turn off the flame and toss in a handful of mint leaves. Stir a bit. Once it's cool, strain syrup into container.)

I muddle for longer than is comfortable and I listen all the while for that telltale crunch of the leaves' veins submitting to me. The reason I first covered the leaves with syrup is, once you start smashing those leaves, they start releasing oils and aromatics, and if the leaves were uncovered and dry, all of that would just escape into the air. The syrup keeps those flavoring agents in the bottom of the glass where they belong.

Once I'm satisfied, I dump into the cup as much finely crushed ice as it can hold -- really, more than it can hold, in that I add a little mound at the top. I pour in two ounces of bourbon, which settles that mound down to lip-of-the-cup height, probably more. I take a stirrer but I don't stir; I kind of make little, quick, downward stabbing motions. Stirring might unmoor some of the ice chips from the general mass, and I find that floating ice chips just make a julep look awful.

At this point, depending on the size of the julep cup, the whole shebang of ice and bourbon and mint and syrup usually does not reach the top of the glass. So I do the process over again, but in a different order: I add another mound of ice, I pour another shot of bourbon, I stab. Then I taste with a dip of a straw. Here's where an experienced palette helps. What I want to achieve is the perfect balance of mint and whiskey. I want an even fight between sweet and sting, but I don't want it to taste acrimonious, like a fight. I want melody and harmony.

The beginning of a mint julep tastes very different from the end, when chances are you're just mainlining minty sugar. Given that, I taste-test my julep from either the top or the middle of the glass; I don't stick my straw all the way down to the bottom to retrieve my sample. If at the top bourbon is beating sugar/mint, that's OK. The drink has every right to be a progression, not a static entity, flavor-wise.

I garnish with the perkiest sprig of fat mint leaves I've got on hand. I would be remiss not to mention that my friend Chandra, who's hosted Derby parties for years, tops her juleps off with a single sprinkle of confectioner's sugar. It's a surprising, cheery touch. (If you do this, I'd recommend dipping your sprig into the sugar as well so that there's uniform powderiness between the sprig and the liquid at the top of the glass.)

That's it. No real recipe needed. Just practice and (bromide alert) TLC.

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