The julep is an old mixture, which like many began as medicine. Not old like early 20th century. Old like over a thousand years old. And not “medicine” like a morning pick-me-up, antifogmatic, corpse reviver, etc. Actual medicine made from macerated flowers. (900 AD wasn’t the height of medical science.) How it became the delicious cocktail, we enjoy today began around 1770 with a mintless rum drink that later evolved into a brandy drink and eventually wound up as the drink we know today. In 1938, the mint julep became the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, and sadly most people only think of juleps around the first Saturday in May. If you ask me, we should be drinking juleps during the hottest days of July and August when juleps truly are medicinal against the heat.
I’ll be honest. I don’t typically mix with Four Roses. While both the Small Batch and Single Barrel are among my favorite bourbons, I prefer to sip them neat. Heck, even their promotional materials suggest this is how they are meant to be enjoyed. Being given the opportunity–nay, the very duty–to make some juleps with these fine whiskeys was FUN.
One critical note must be made regarding mint. It is a delicate leaf. All of those veins running through it contain chlorophyll which is bitter. So if you muddle your mint into a paste or tiny bits that could get stuck in a straw, you’re going to have a lousy drink. (This is part of the reason some people dislike juleps. Another is bad bottled syrups, which I also recommend avoiding.) Press lightly with the flat end of a muddler and avoid those muddlers with teeth.
3 OZ FOUR ROSES SINGLE BARREL
½ OZ SIMPLE SYRUP
12 MINT LEAVES, STEMS REMOVED
GARNISH: A LARGE SPRIG OF MINT
Add the mint leaves and simple syrup to a julep cup and press lightly with your muddler until you can smell the mint. Fill the cup with crushed ice and add the bourbon. Stir until the outside of the cup frosts and then top with more crushed ice. (The ice should sit above the rim of the julep cup.) To garnish, slap a large sprig/small bush of mint between your hands and sink it partially into the ice next to your straw. You should get a big whiff of mint with each sip.
You say you want more flavor than mint and bourbon? You’re getting greedy, but fine. Dale DeGroff makes a Georgia Peach Julep which is nice, but can get a bit too sweet for my palate. Let’s add black pepper!
PEACH PEPPERCORN JULEP
2½ OZ FOUR ROSES YELLOW LABEL
½ OZ PEACH LIQUEUR (I USED COMBIER PÊCHE DE VIGNE)
1 TSP SIMPLE SYRUP
6 MINT LEAVES, STEMS REMOVED
FRESH COARSE GROUND BLACK PEPPER
GARNISH: A LARGE SPRIG OF MINT, PEACH SLICES (IN SEASON)
Add the mint leaves, simple syrup, and 4-6 grinds of black pepper to a julep cup and press lightly with your muddler until you can smell the mint and pepper. Fill the cup with crushed ice and add the bourbon and peach liqueur. Stir until the outside of the cup frosts and then top with more crushed ice. (The ice should sit above the rim of the julep cup.) To garnish, slap a sprig of mint between your hands and sink it partially into the ice next to your straw. If peaches are in season, add a slice or two to the rim.
I’m told there are some people who don’t like mint. These must be the people who buy cinnamon toothpaste. If any of these people are coming to your Kentucky Derby party and don’t want to miss out on all the crushed ice fun, might I suggest a cobbler? In a cocktail sense, cobblers are cousins to the julep that substitute other fruits such as citrus and berries for mint.
3 OZ FOUR ROSES SMALL BATCH
½ TSP MARASCHINO LIQUEUR (LUXARDO)
1 TSP SIMPLE SYRUP
1-2 ORANGE WHEELS, ABOUT ¼ INCH THICK
GARNISH: FRESH BERRIES IN SEASON (RASPBERRIES AND BLACKBERRIES ARE MY FAVORITES)
Fill a tumbler with crushed ice, then add the bourbon, maraschino and simple syrup. Slide orange wheels in between the side of the glass and the ice. Stir to combine and top with more crushed ice. Garnish with seasonal berries. (Leaving off the berries is more traditional, so don’t worry if you can’t find any good ones.)
There you go: three delicious and refreshing drinks to make for not just the Derby, but throughout the summer months. Keep in mind these fine Four Roses bourbons vary in proof from 80-100 and 3 ounces is no small amount. Please drink responsibly and I hope your horse wins every time.
Disclaimer: Samples were provided by Four Roses for these cocktails. We appreciate their willingness to allow Bourbon & Banter to review their product with no strings attached. And special thanks to Cheryl van Grunsven for the amazing photos.