Last month at Maison Premiere, the 2016 James Beard Award-winning bar in New York City, Bar Director Will Elliot conjured images of a Kentucky porch. It must have been late afternoon, the sun setting not far beyond the tree line, and the air still dank with humidity. He was attempting to describe the spirit of the mint julep — that classic bourbon cocktail associated with horses, aristocrats and all things Kentucky. Finally, he landed on the word reverential. “It’s a drink that involves more ceremony than any other classic cocktail,” Elliot said. “It’s also super elemental. It has everything that the South has to offer: bourbon, sugar, mint.”
According to Elliot, the drink should only smell like mint — not taste like it. To achieve the effect, “the straw should be placed, almost buried, in the mint,” he said. “This forces the drinker to sip from the most fragrant part of the drink.” Equally important is the vessel the drink comes served in: a tin cup, most often plated with nickel or even silver. “You can’t serve a julep in anything else,” Elliot said. Metal conducts cold, and keeps the drink refreshingly drinkable on a hot summer’s day outside. “It’s definitely a drink that’s best when it’s still hot out,” he added. “I would never go into a bar and order it at midnight.”
The Mint Julep
Makes one cocktail
1 dash Angostura bitters
.25 oz. Demarara syrup
2 oz. Four Roses Bourbon
Bouquet of fresh mint
1. To build, combine bitters, syrup and bourbon in a julep tin.
2. Hand crack square inch ice cubes into the tin until half full.
3. Stir quickly.
4. Top with mound of cracked ice.
5. Take the mint bouquet and slap it between the palms of your hands to release its essential oils. Garnish the drink and tuck two cocktail straws deep into the mint.
The difference between a cocktail and a great cocktail lies in the details, the little tweaks only possible with the right tools. Read the Story