The Tasting Panel magazine

April 2013

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Mint Julep Marvels WITH THE RACE FOR THE ROSES COMING UP, NOW IS THE TIME TO STOCK UP ON BOURBONS PHOTO: FRED MINNICK 24  /  the tasting panel  /  april 2013 O n May 4, the world will enjoy "the fastest two minutes in sports": the Kentucky Derby. And there's no better way to celebrate this great tradition than sipping on its classic cocktail—the Mint Julep, a proven moneymaker for bars in April. In John Davis's 1803 book Travels of Four Years and a Half in the United States of America, we find the first recorded reference to the Julep. Fifty years later, the silver cup was introduced and became the Mint Julep's lasting image. Purists argued on behalf of this silver cup. In a 1908 Chicago Tribune article, Lexington's Samuel Judson said: "Take a silver cup—always a silver cup. Fill it with ice pulverized to the fineness of snow. Bruise one tender little leaf of mint and stick it in the ice. Then dissolve a spoonful of sugar in about three-quarters of a Kentucky drink of good whisky and let the fluid filter through the ice to the bottom of the cup. Shake the cup slowly until a coating of a thick white frost forms on the outside. Trim with mint and hand to an appreciative gentleman." Nowadays, the Julep gets mixed results. Even more so than the Old Fashioned or Manhattan, this whiskey cocktail is bludgeoned with poor execution. For me, the most-common mistake is using lower-proof whiskeys. When bartenders use 80-proof whiskey for Juleps, the massive amount of ice will melt and customers will barely taste the base spirit. I recommend high-proof bourbons that will stand up to the ice and stick out in the cocktail. Baker's Bourbon is a 7-year-old, 107-proof whiskey made by Jim Beam. It's smooth and delivers all the expected caramel and vanilla notes, but it really packs a nice citrus punch that shines through in the Julep. At the Jim Beam Distillery, I convinced Jim Beam's Master Mixologist, Bobby Gleason, to try a Manhattan with Baker's. He loved it, and I argued Baker's is the most-underrated cocktail-making whiskey on the market. Moving on, Old Weller Antique 107 is the only assessable wheated bourbon that can stand up to the ice in a mint julep. At 107 proof, its sweet notes are amplified with the ice. Unlike many whiskeys, Antique's richness, caramel, vanilla and balance can still be tasted amongst the dilution and mint. When in doubt, just use a higher-proof whiskey. Unfortunately, this normally means a single barrel product. Many single barrel products are higher than 107 proof, but each barrel is different from the next. You want consistency for your Mint Julep base. Other higher-proof bourbons I recommend include Wild Turkey 101, Old GrandDad 114, Charter 101 and an up-and-coming brand distilled in Indiana called Homestead Barrel Proof Bourbon Whiskey (113.3 proof). You can't go wrong with any of these whiskeys. Happy Derby season, all!

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