How to make the perfect mint julep, according to a golf club chef
Welcome to Clubhouse Eats, where we celebrate the game’s most delectable food and drink. Hope you brought your appetites.
In golf, there are horses for courses. But none can keep up with the thoroughbreds that race around Churchill Downs every year.
The 147th running of the Kentucky Derby is just a week away. That means dapper dressers, Southern belles and a garland of red roses for the winner. And let’s not forget mint juleps, the official drink of the Kentucky Derby since 1938.
At Liberty National Golf Club, in New Jersey, where I’m the assistant general manager and executive chef, we make a classic mint julep, which is sure to be in high demand this weekend and next. I’ve included our recipe for it below, along with tips if you’re thinking of making your own julep at home.
How to make a mint julep
2 1/2 ounces cask-strength bourbon whiskey
1/2 ounce Demerara simple syrup (*directions below)
5 leaves of mint
1/4 ounce dark rum
Lots of ice
Three large sprigs of mint (for garnish)
*Demerara Simple Syrup: 2 parts Demerara sugar / 1 part water
Bring the sugar-and-water mixture over medium heat and bring it to a simmer, stirring as you do. Once the liquid starts to simmer, remove it from the heat and let it cool into a syrup.
Gently muddle mint leaves with simple syrup in a rocks glass or julep cup. Fill a Lewis bag or cloth napkin with a good amount of ice. With a large wooden mallet or the back of an iron skillet, crush the ice into small pieces. Fill your glass with ice and then add bourbon. With a bar spoon, give your cocktail a good stir. This will dilute and chill as well as create more space in the glass. Mound the glass with more crushed ice. Top with dark rum and garnish with healthy bunch of mint.
Keep In Mint Condition: When muddling mint, do it gently. We are not looking to pulverize it. We’re simply trying to express some of the oils from the leaves. It’s like using some finesse around the greens.
Find Proof in the Bourbon: Use high-proof, high-quality bourbon. This will ensure a delicious cocktail when it’s diluted, and a pretty good buzz as well. Cask-strength bourbon is perfect.
Strain for Tradition: Most strainers you see at bars are Hawthorne strainers, with a coiled spring that goes around the rim. These are used to strain cocktails into a drinking vessel. The julep strainer is something different. It was designed to remain on the rim of the glass to hold back the crushed ice as you drink. Julep strainers are rarities these days. Not many people use them. But if you want to be true to tradition, a julep strainer is the way to go.
Slap the Mint: That healthy little bunch of mint to garnish your glass should get a good slap in the palm of your hand to release some of the oils.
Garnish Generously: When I say garnish your julep with mint, I don’t mean just a spindly sprig or two. Be generous with it. The muddled mint in the drink is important to a good julep, but so is the aroma of mint that you get on the nose.
More mint julep options to consider
The julep comes in many variations that make for a perfect post-round cocktail in the summer. Here are some of my favorites.
Georgia Peach Julep
2 ounces cask-strength bourbon whiskey
1 ounce Peach Brandy
1/2 ounce Demerara simple syrup
5 mint leaves
Lots of ice
Three large top sprigs of mint (garnish)
Prescription Julep (Circa 1857)
2 ounces Cognac
1/2 ounce Rye
1/2 ounce simple syrup
Splash of dark rum
5 mint leaves
Three large top sprigs of mint (for garnish)
Blood Orange-Basil Julep
1 1/2 ounce Bourbon
1 1/2 ounce Rye
1/2 ounce Blood Orange Oleo Saccharum (*directions below)
5 basil leaves
Lots of ice
Three large top sprigs of basil (for garnish)
*Blood Orange Oleo Saccharum: Peels from 5 blood oranges / 1 cup white sugar
Seal zest and sugar in a bag and close tightly. Muddle and massage zest to release the citrus oils. Leave unrefrigerated overnight. Remove zest after 24 hours and refrigerate until you’re ready to make your drink.
Shaun Lewis is assistant general manager and executive chef at Liberty National Golf Club in New Jersey. You can find him on Instagram: @chefshaunchristopherlewis.