HULK SMASH: How to make a Mint Julep, what it is and recipes for juleps and smashes.
It’s a simple definition to start, a julep is a drink on crushed ice with mint and a smash is a drink on crushed ice with smashed up fruit and mint. These definitions have expanded in modern times when we start smashing up vegetables and all kinds of herbs. Examples of ones that I do are below, but I’m a big fan of the Zane Harris Peppered Rhubarb Smash. Hardcore cocktailians might not jive with the new expanded understanding of juleps and smashes but evolution is natural, they’ll get over it.
When making a julep, the two main attributes that the herb (lets think of this through then lens of mint) brings to a drink are aroma and oils. I offer to you these are the only two things you need to manage to get a julep right. A smash, adds two more variables, water and mouth feel.
First off the aroma is easy, to have a good aroma in a julep use fresh herbs. That is all; old herbs that smell like a refrigerator make a julep smell like yesterday’s leftovers. Aroma is also on the top of the drink, not really detectable under a mountain of crushed ice. If there is no garnish on a julep there is veritably no scent, scent is the biggest part of taste, you get it. There are 15,000 schools of thought on how to make a mint julep, I’ll give you mine, but in keeping with the idea of managing a fresh aroma, there are those who only use mint, as a garnish is a mint julep. If the mint is fresh and abundant, I can get behind this.
Oils are also a matter of freshness, but are more tricky and subtle. Go to your local hippie store, you know the one that sells essential oils and goji berries and Pilates mats, I’m sure there is one close to you. Ask to taste any essential oil and you’ll quickly see that they are all intensely bitter but very pleasant smelling. This is why too much mint is as bad as not enough, too much oil in a drink will make the drink bitter, any only fixable with more sugar. More sugar will make a drink pedestrian; these are the subtle differences between good and great cocktails. This is why when I make a mint julep I mostly act on gently releasing the oils into the julep cup with a very light muddle. However if you are using hard herbs, you have to beat ‘em up a bit more to get the oil out. Oil’s bitterness is something you have to think about in the skin of fruits and vegetables as well. For example the skin of cucumbers is quite bitter and the inside quite tasteless. I often see wise bartenders remove some of the skin from a cucumber before muddling them.
Like us, fruit and vegetables are mostly water. Good ‘ol no flavor whatsoever water. Think about this when building or shaking muddled fruit. Are you using a low water concentrated puree or the afore mentioned watery cucumber? Perhaps the main reasons (of the dozens) I don’t generally like cukes in drinks are because they often taste of over shaking, over dilution, and crappy ice.
If water cuts the flavor, giant chunks of fruit just steel it. I think that purees can basically mask the flavor of rotgut 150 proof vodka. That is mostly a good thing, but I like to taste the spirit of the drink. Most people not in a roadside daiquiri stand would agree. This is why when I choose spirits for smashes; I try to choose something that can rise above, something that can stick out, and more often than not, a liqueur that is made of things complimentary to the other ingredients. For example, ginger, basil and orange are a classic combo in the sauce world, so why not toss a shot o’ bourbon in there too?
Here are some recipes to work with those various points
Peach Smash Good
Leave on the stem and muddle thyme in a bucket (a big rocks glass) muddle hard, leaving it in tact, drop in 2 lemon wedges-you want a little extra bitterness from the peels on those lemons
Add 1.5 oz Spiced Rum
1 oz Drambuie
1oz Peach puree
Fill with crushed ice Stir so that the herbs are reaching out of the glass No straw
Jacob’s Thai smash
1.5 oz Vodka
1 oz Blanc vermouth
.5 oz Curacao
3 slices cucumber
4 stems cilantro
Half a jalapeno
Pinch of salt
Build over cubed ice Shake very hard Fine strain into a highball glass over crushed fresh ice
Garnish with a cucumber and a jalapeno You don’t need to muddle anything and the watery cucumber works very well with the salt to round out a savory character to the drink
1.5 oz Bourbon
.3 oz Bourbon simple
10 mint leaves
Pour over a julep cup that has been rubbed thoroughly with mint
Discard mint-you don’t want a bitter drink
Garnish with mint a bouquet of mint with a straw hidden inside of it; the idea is to have mint up your nose with every sip
1oz London dry gin
1 oz Domain de Canton
.5 oz lime
Pour over a julep cup that has been muddled with sage and a bit of crushed ice to help break it up-because gin and ginger are best friends Garnish with sage around the straw and 3 dashes scotch
Sans Mutton-Amanda Womack, but I helped
1.5 oz Brandy
.5 oz Lemon
.5 oz Fig Jam
.25 oz Fernet Branca
Shake and fine strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with a shocked mint leaf- not actually a smash but an example of pairing the mint flavor of Fernet with Fig