Saturday, May 09, 2015

Pic(k) of the Week: Mint Julep under ice

This was the refreshing, cold-sweating, Mint Julep, served to me at Rhodeside Grill, a pub and restaurant in the Court House neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia, on Friday, 1 May 2015. It was the afternoon before the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, Kentucky.

Mint Julep under ice

The Mint Julep is the traditional drink of the Kentucky Derby, during which some 80,000 juleps are served. Traditionally, Mint Juleps are served in silver or pewter cups and held by the handle or rim in order for the cup to maintain optimum frost. Beyond the bourbon, sugar, and mint, the only other requirement for this drink is crushed ice. Any other form of ice will not create the same effect, so take the time to create a nice mound of crushed ice before mixing this cocktail. As an alternative to muddling the mint and sugar cube you can also infuse a sugar syrup with mint. With this much bourbon in a drink, slow sipping is the appropriate way to imbibe.

This Mint Julep was mixed for me by Paul Taylor, the long-time Beverage Director at the Vintage Restaurant Group —the umbrella-owner of Rhodeside Grill and three other northern Virginia restaurants. A mixologist iconoclast, Taylor dashed the bourbon with bitters. And it wasn't just any bourbon. It was Woodford Reserve. (This wasn't the first Mint Julep that Mr. Taylor had mixed for me. He did the same, a year earlier, also on the Friday before the Kentucky Derby. A tradition?)

Three days later, Taylor would move to Washington, D.C., for his new, similar, position at the bourbon-happy restaurant, Southern Efficiency. A "Southern food and whiskey bar," Southern Efficiency is named after President John F. Kennedy's 1961 observation on the capital: "Washington is a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm."

Taylor-made Mint Julep

Need another reason for enjoying a Mint Julep? Here's a rhapsody to the drink, written by one Joshua Soule Smith, a Kentucky judge and journalist of the late 1800s.

Then comes the zenith of man’s pleasure. Then comes the julep – the mint julep. Who has not tasted one has lived in vain. The honey of Hymettus brought no such solace to the soul; the nectar of the Gods is tame beside it. It is the very dream of drinks, the vision of sweet quaffings.

The Bourbon and the mint are lovers. In the same land they live, on the same food they are fostered. The mint dips infant leaf into the same stream that makes The Bourbon what it is. The corn grows in the level lands through which small streams meander. By the brook-side the mint grows. As the little wavelets pass, they glide up to kiss the feet of the growing mint, and the mint bends to salute them. Gracious and kind it is, living only for the sake of others. Like a woman’s heart it gives its sweetest aroma when bruised. Among the first to greet the spring, it comes. Beside gurgling brooks that make music in the fields, it lives and thrives. When the bluegrass begins to shoot its gentle sprays towards the sun, mint comes, and its sweetest soul drinks at the crystal brook. It is virgin then. But soon it must be married to old Bourbon. His great heart, his warmth of temperament, and that affinity which no one understands, demands the wedding.

How shall it be? Take from the cold spring some water, pure as angels are; mix it with sugar till it seems like oil. Then take a glass and crush your mint within it with a spoon – crush it around the borders of the glass and leave no place untouched. Then throw the mint away – it is the sacrifice. Fill with cracked ice the glass; pour in the quantity of Bourbon which you want. It trickles slowly through the ice. Let it have time to cool, then pour your sugared water over it. No spoon is needed; no stirring allowed- just let it stand a moment. Then around the brim place sprigs of mint, so that the one who drinks may find the taste and odor at one draft.

Then when it is made, sip it slowly. August suns are shining, the breath of the south wind is upon you. It is fragrant cold and sweet – it is seductive. No maidens kiss is tenderer or more refreshing, no maidens touch could be more passionate. Sip it and dream-it is a dream itself. No other land can give you so much sweet solace for your cares; no other liquor soothes you in melancholy days. Sip it and say there is no solace for the soul, no tonic for the body like old Bourbon whiskey.


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