Mint Julep Protips: Refining The Classic Derby Day Drink

[Photographs: Alice Gao]

We've already spoken a bit about how to make a classic mint julep. But let's say you want to jazz it up a bit, skip the mint bits in your teeth and brighten the flavor. We asked some high-class bartenders for help refining the classic Derby Day drink.

Maxwell Britten of Maison Premiere in Brooklyn stressed the importance of treating the mint delicately, and relying on mint oils rubbed on the julep cup rather than muddled mint to flavor the drink. (He demonstrates his technique for us in the gallery.)

"When you muddle mint, you get really muddy, dirty flavors," added Leo Robitschek of The NoMad and Eleven Madison Park in Manhattan. (EMP is known for throwing quite a Derby Day party.) Robitschek suggests a few alternatives to the traditional muddle: lightly tap the mint in simple syrup, or instead, try a making an easy mint simple syrup or a more advanced mint-infused bourbon.

For the simple syrup, Robitschek suggests essentially making a fresh mint tea by steeping mint leaves in hot water for about 5 minutes, and then mixing the strained liquid with equal parts of sugar for a simple syrup. You can also cold-steep the mint in simple syrup for a few days to yield bright, fresh flavor. Taste as you go to determine when to strain the syrup.

Want to get more advanced? If you have an iSi whipped cream canister, Robitschek recommends the Dave Arnold method of rapid infusion to make minty bourbon for juleps:

We use 35 grams of mint leaves in 1 L bottle of bourbon. Charge the canister twice with nitrous oxide and allow it to sit for 5 minutes. This ensures that the nitrous travels through the canister into the mint leaves. The infusion actually happens when you vent (release the nitrous gas) the canister. The nitrous rushes out into the bourbon, bringing all of the sweet aromatic compounds in the mint, and infusing it into the bourbon. The great thing is that using this technique eliminates any bitter, muddy, or tannic flavors that you may get from muddling or over extracting mint."

Are you a Julep expert? Any tips for a spin on the classic?