It’s time to get reacquainted with the outdoors, whether on the porch at home or on a restaurant patio. Mint julep season is here.
In essence, a julep is a simple mixture of whiskey, sugar and mint that has become associated with Southern springtime and the Kentucky Derby.
Since 1938, the mint julep has been the official cocktail of the “greatest two minutes in sports,” held the first Saturday in May, but the drink predates the Kentucky Derby (which first was run in 1875) and didn’t originate in the Bluegrass State. Back in the early 1800s, it was a restorative tonic sipped in the morning by Virginia farmers. It began with brandy or rum, but bourbon whiskey is what stuck, especially in bourbon’s spiritual homeland of Kentucky.
It was the advent of the ice industry that pushed the mint julep to iconic status. Silver cups glistening with the cold sweat of shaved ice were a status symbol. What better to have in hand while wearing a fancy hat and watching thoroughbred horses?
At Churchill Downs, more than 120,000 mint juleps are served in the two-day period of the Kentucky Derby, as they go through 1,000 pounds of mint.
Atlanta bars and restaurants currently are celebrating Mint Julep Month, pouring their take of the original (and ditching the single-use plastic straw).
Riders Up! at JCT Kitchen & Bar
The traditional call to jockeys, instructing them to mount their horses, is “riders up!” That’s what Westside’s JCT Kitchen & Bar calls its version of the julep. “This mint julep celebrates the botanical star of the cocktail and cranks it up with the inclusion of herbal liqueurs Pimm's #1 and Peychaud's Aperitivo,” said Beverage Manager James Letendre. “Robust yet crushable, it shares the energy of the paddock judge's call to race.” JCT will show the race live on Derby Day, and chef Brian Horn’s menu will include Kentucky hot brown biscuits and pimento cheese tea sandwiches.
1198 Howell Mill Road NW, Atlanta. 404-355-2252, jctkitchen.com.
North Georgia Julep at Atlas
At Buckhead’s Atlas, Beverage Manager Eleanor Parker conjures fond childhood memories of the twining vines of sweet-smelling honeysuckle in her mint julep. In her North Georgia Julep, she muddles mint in the bottom of a crystal glass, adding ice, syrup made from honeysuckle essence, and 2 ounces of Maker’s Mark bourbon. She garnishes it with a mint sprig and honeysuckle flowers. Each sip, through straws made from hay, is highly aromatic and evocative of springtime in the mountains.
88 W. Paces Ferry Road NW, Atlanta. 404-600-6471, atlasrestaurant.com.
Yellow Chartreuse Julep at Garden & Gun Club
The style at the Battery’s Garden & Gun Club is a trendy mix of old and new. Their refreshing Yellow Chartreuse Julep follows suit, incorporating the 130-plus ingredient liqueur first created by French monks in the 1600s. Beverage Manager Michael Gann gently muddles mint leaves and simple syrup in a silver julep cup, then adds yellow Chartreuse and bourbon. He tops it with crushed ice and mint sprigs, then atomizes absinthe over the top. It’s a triple crown of sweetness, booziness and herbal complexity.
2605 Circle 75 Parkway SE, Atlanta. 770-726-0925, gardenandgunclub.com.
Moonshine Mint Julep at Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours
Twisted Soul puts a global twist on soul food, but Kursten Berry’s julep is completely Southern, combining two of the region’s traditional flavors: sweet tea and moonshine. She shakes fresh mint leaves with sweet tea moonshine and fresh lemon juice, then pours the mixture over ice, garnishing with a mint leaf and lemon slice. It’s a cocktail with a derby punch.
1133 Huff Road, Atlanta. 404-350-5500, twistedsoulcookhouseandpours.com.
Foolish Pleasure at Sweet Auburn Barbecue
Sweet Auburn serves a julep-inspired slush in its frozen version. Foolish Pleasure, made in collaboration with ASW Distillery and Honeysuckle Gelato, is named for the winner of the 1975 Kentucky Derby. Berry-hued, it’s an icy fusion of ASW Fiddler Bourbon blackberry lime sorbet, brown sugar mint tea, blackberry liqueur and orange bitters.
656 N. Highland Ave. NE, Atlanta. 678-515-3550, sweetauburnbbq.com.
Bourbon #2 Julep at Bully Boy
The Bourbon #2 Julep gets a tart pucker from a shrub made with fruit, herbs, and Champagne and apple cider vinegars. Bartender Natasha Samone swizzles together bourbon, mint leaves and her shrub, featuring strawberry, mint and dill, with crushed ice until the glass is frosty. It’s topped with expressed mint and sliced strawberries.
828 Ralph McGill Blvd. NE, Atlanta. 678-904-5607, bullyboyatl.com.
Run Pony, Run! at Livingston
Livingston, in the 107-year-old Georgian Terrace Hotel, is steeped in history. Slip into some seersucker, sip on derby-themed cocktails, and watch all the live action from the race at the restaurant’s viewing party, beginning at 3 p.m. May 4. Livingston’s old-fashioned mint julep is a combination of bourbon, bitters, house mint syrup and a mint sprig, while the Run Pony, Run! stirs together whiskey, Aperol, bitters and lemon.
659 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 866-845-7551, livingstonatlanta.com.
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