The best mint julep we've had in our lives came in a plastic cup not a silver chaser. The ice wasn't crushed, but just ordinary lumpy old restaurant ice. The setting not a dark & soothing old bar or a shady front porch, but on conference room chairs amidst rows of tables facing the front of a room that surely has seen more than its share of Powerpoint presentations.
But that perfectly mixed drink, quickly prepared by the hands of real New Orleans bartenders for the dozens of us in the room, sipped while watching Chris McMillian recite fine old poetry as he crafted himself the drink the old slow way in a real julep cup, still refreshes in our memories.
We are delighted to learn that Chris McMillian and Phil Greene have taken this presentation, which we saw at Tales of the Cocktail in 2008, on the road and the fine folks at the Smithsonian have captured some of its magic to share with you. Did New Orleans Invent the Cocktail? No. Does it matter? Not a whit.
The Mint Julep
a dozen or so fresh mint leaves, plus a sprig to garnish
1oz rich syrup (or food writer extraordinaire Pableaux Johnson suggests peach syrup, like Monin)
Place mint and .25oz syrup in a julep cup or large
Bruise the mint leaves with a wooden muddler or barspoon, pressing them against the sides of the cup.
Loosely pack the cup with finely crushed ice, then pour in the bourbon.
Drizzle .75oz syrup on top and garnish with a spanked mint sprig. (That is, place the garnish in the palm of one hand and slap it with the other once to bruise the mint and release the oils).
Use a dry julep strainer to lightly dust the mint with superfine sugar.
You can also see Chris speaking in 2007 about the Mint Julep here in this video which was part of the New Orleans' Best Cocktails series. This gives more history, physics and biology of the drink as well as an uninterrupted rendition of the lovely poem the "Zenith of Mans' Pleasure", written in the 1890s by Kentucky newspaperman J. Soule Smith. This video is also an excellent illustration of the classic style of bartending and makes it quite clear where the honorific "Professor" arose for those particularly good at their craft.