The festive season is officially over, Pancake Day has passed and Valentine’s is a memory laced with rose petals and self-loathing. What landmarks do we have to look forward to now? Mother’s Day? Lent? Opportunities for socially sanctioned gluttony are scant. Until late March, that is, when we’ll stockpile every Cadbury’s Creme Egg we can find, and vigorously arrange Easter egg hunts – “for the children”.
To bolster our spirits until then, we need an enlivening shot in the arm: enter Bulleit Bourbon’s Fraser Stancombe and his Bulleit Blulep, a giddying, atomic take on the mint julep.
Traditionally, the julep comprises a spirit, a simple sugar syrup and mint leaves, coddled together over a mountain of crushed ice. Here, Stancombe replaces the one-note, heavy sugar syrup with honeyed, floral elderflower notes, while adding a sour cherry liqueur to the mix for dryness. “Mint juleps can be overly sweet and sickly,” says Stancombe. “I wanted to create one that was slightly drier and more palatable.”
The julep is thought to have originated some time during the 18th century in the American South, although, as with all regional innovations, its exact provenance – and alchemy – have been claimed by various factions over the years. In 1784, the julep first appears in literature as a cure for “sickness at the stomach”, and its name supposedly derives from the Persian word for ‘rosewater’, an ancient medicinal salve. Parts of Dixie are zealous about the inclusion of brandy; others demand their mint leaves remain fresh and unsullied; some still demand cracked, not crushed ice.
It wasn’t until the 1938 Kentucky Derby that the modern concept of the mint julep – using bourbon – became the standard, and the ‘correct’ way to serve the cocktail was firmly established, finally uniting public opinion: in a frosted julep tin, and nothing else.
“A julep tin is just a silver cup,” says Stancombe. “The metal allows the drink to get – and stay – frosty, which was vital in the stifling summer. Also, In the southern states, sterling silver cups were seen a status of wealth and power.” Indeed, according to an article in a 1908 Chicago Tribune, the key to a julep was its vessel – “always a silver cup” – and the “fineness” of its ice.
Moreover, the Tribune prescribed one final flourish for the perfect julep: “Trim with mint and hand to an appreciative gentleman”. Don’t mind if we do.
Bulleit Blulep (Serves 2)
200ml Bulleit bourbon
40ml Luxardo maraschino cherry liqueur
40ml elderflower syrup
40 mint leaves
2 sprigs of mint, to garnish
40ml Blue Curacao, to drizzle
Julep tin or rocks glass
- Add the crushed ice and mint leaves to a julep tin or rocks glass.
- Muddle together well, until the mint leaves are bruised.
- Add the bourbon, cherry liqueur and elderflower syrup. Mix together.
- Drizzle the Blue Curacao over the crushed ice cap, and finish with a sprig of mint.
From delicious to stratospheric…
“Make your own elderflower syrup. It is surprisingly easy, once you manage to find the elderflower heads themselves.
“Add equal parts sugar and water to a pan and heat until the sugar dissolves. Add the elderflower heads and a pinch of citric acid, then leave to cool and infuse for two hours. Strain the syrup through a muslin cloth or fine sieve, then decant into an airtight container. It will go off in about two weeks when kept in the fridge, so keep an eye on it.”
“Bulleit is really the only bourbon choice here. Most cocktail retailers will sell elderflower syrup, but I’d always encourage you to make your own. Luxardo maraschino liqueur is an Italian liqueur made from Marasca sour cherries, and has been produced since 1821. Opt for Giffard’s Blue Curacao.”