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Cookin' ATVS Style: Mint Simple Syrup & the Mint Julep

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Tomorrow is, of course, Derby Day. Celebrate in style!

Billy Gomila

Between the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, and the weather turning with grilling season approaching, we thought it would be useful to provide you with a delicious and easy-to-make mixer that would not only help you celebrate appropriately, but also give you delicious, fresh-tasting beverages throughout the summer.

This recipe comes to us from reader, commenter, friend, raconteur, man about town, venerable sensei and general bon vivant Dr. Bundy. Mint-flavored simple syrup, which can be used to mix a variety of very delicious, tasty, warm-weather beverages. Both alcoholic, and otherwise.

I assume everyone knows how to make simple syrup, right? 1 part sugar to 1 part water. Boil for a few minutes. Let it cool. Bam, you have simple syrup which is a staple in many cocktails. Except neither my wife or I can have much sugar so we look for ways to cheat the system a little. We use the Splenda baking blend which is 50% splenda and 50% white sugar. But here's the thing, it's slightly sweeter than plain sugar so you use half of the pure sugar you normally would use in a typical baking situation. Using advanced math you end up with 25% of the actual sugar you normally would have in simple syrup. Because it's sweeter, though, I use even less of the Splenda blend than the ratio above. This is how I like it (all measurements approximate because I'm genetically incapable of following a recipe or making something the same way twice):

2qt cold (filtered if you have it) water
1/2 cup splenda baking blend
As much mint as you can handle (I like spearmint, but use what you can get)

Put the cold water in a pot at least big enough to hold that much water with a little room left over. I happen to have a 3.5-qt pot that is fantastic for this application. Cold water is important because you should always start with cold water because it has more dissolved oxygen which helps absorb flavors into solution (science...it's sexy AND delicious). Hot water from your water heater tends to have more dissolved minerals that can do a number of bad things flavor-wise. Add the splenda. Mix a few times with a wooden spoon. I'll explain why a wooden spoon in a minute. Take most (not all, save a sprig or two) of the fresh (you've washed it and dried it off on a paper towel by now, right?) mint and rub it between your hands to bruise it. This will release the essential oil in the leaves. Stems are OK too because they have a good amount of oils as well, plus they assist in the bruising. Waste not, want not. Throw it in the pot, and make holy water (boil the hell out of it) for a minute or so. Your hands smell WONDERFUL at this point. Washing them is entirely up to you.

Mint Simple Syrup 1

When the water has come to a boil for a minute or so, the splenda has now dissolved. Reduce the heat to a light simmer. You want to see a few bubbles or ripples on the surface, but not a full boil. My 3.5-qt pot is good for this because it's kind of wide like a stock pot. You're reducing the liquid at this point and a wider surface area aids this. Don't fret if you don't have this size pot, though, you're making sugar water not weapons-grade plutonium. There's room on the margins. Simmer for about an hour. Your bruised mint will start to look like creamed spinach without the cream. After 30-45 minutes, take your wooden spoon and grab a sample. I said wooden because you're essentially sipping a near-boiling liquid. A metal spoon will absorb that heat and retain it meaning you have to stand there like an idiot blowing on the stuff to cool it off enough to taste without blanching your tongue. A wooden spoon will make this task much faster, and if you used a metal spoon for the first stir, you now have two utensils to wash. Use a wooden spoon, it's economy of motion and enviro-friendly. If it's too sweet or too minty you have time to add water to dilute a little. If not sweet or minty enough, now's your chance to add more. If you change anything, check the flavor every 10 minutes or so. When you're happy with the flavor, kill the fire and move the pot to a cool portion of the cooktop.

Mint Syrup 3

By now you have an air tight storage solution worked out. I use a growler (half gallon) which is equal to 2 quarts which is the amount of water I started with, roughly. Your result should be something close to what you started with minus evaporation plus anything you may have added. Take the leftover un-bruised mint sprigs and toss them in the storage vessel. Add the liquid you just made. Keep closed in the fridge as long as you want, but we usually go through it in a week or so. Since there's very little sugar and the temps are low in a fridge you don't have fermentation on a scale large enough to promote illness-causing funk. This will keep quite some time if you need it to. But why would you need it to?

Mint Syrup 4

What you've just made is an infused simple syrup. A traditional julep calls for mint leaves muddled with sugar. That's a pain in the ass, especially if I'm session drinking. This method allows me to make a drink the moment I decide I want one with no fuss. I'm not trying to win bartending competitions any more, I'm trying to make a damn drink before the dog grabs the groceries off the counter and the phone is ringing. Play with the ratios of alcohol and syrup by using a larger glass but not filling all the way at first. Leave some room to add more alcohol or syrup or ice until you get it how you like it. I find that 2-3 oz of this mix over crushed ice (the rabbit turd ice pellets from Sonic are great for this...so are snow-balls minus any syrup) and 2-4oz your favorite bourbon make a perfect julep. I LOVE Bulleit for juleps because it's a bit more harsh than some other bourbons and I like the way that balances out the smoothness of the syrup. You're mixing bourbon with a fairly sweet mixer, so now is not the time to pull out the expensive hooch. Beam white label will work just fine if you're OK with that  or on a budget (black label even better), but if you've got money to burn and want to use the expensive stuff I won't judge.

I totally will judge, you wasteful prick.

So will I. Seriously. Good bourbon needs ICE. That's it.

So, there you go. I stored the syrup in a mason jar, and made a perfectly wonderful julep with some Buffalo Trace (which, while a perfectly good sipping bourbon, is also very economical) I tend to stick with a 2:1 bourbon/syrup recipe, but go as the spirit moves you with a drink like this. You can also make some mint iced tea, or mint lemonade, or even a mojito. Remember, it's still just sugar water, so you can even put it in ice trays and freeze it into cubes. So long as you can keep it good and air-tight, it'll keep for a while. Although, as Bundy says, you may not keep it that long.

Mint Julep