Classic mint juleps get an update with molasses-y muscovado sugar and lime. Adapted from Brown Sugar Kitchen.
Now that its spring, we’re finally getting a winter in San Francisco. Karl the Fog (yes, our fog has a name… and instagram account) has been hanging around most days, blowing chilly sea air inland. I’m glad he’s back – I mist him! (SF humor.) In addition to getting to flaunt my favorite boots and scarves, I especially love foggy days for taking pictures. The fog makes the sky like a huge softbox, diffusing the sunlight, bringing forward colors, and creating delicate shadows. Plus Karl keeps my kitchen cool for baking.
But Karl or no, it’s never too cold for a mint julep, the refreshing beverage of choice of the Kentucky Derby, which takes place the first weekend in May. A mixture of bourbon and mint, gently sweetened and poured over packed, crushed ice, mint juleps are essentially boozy snow cones. (Also: boozy snow cones.)
This variation of the classic drink comes from Brown Sugar Kitchen, an epic eatery in West Oakland famous for slinging such Southern delicacies as chicken and waffles, shrimp and grits, and buttery biscuits to hungry brunch-goers.
Though I must come clean: I have yet to actually go to Brown Sugar Kitchen. It’s hard to get my hungry butt to the East Bay for brunch when I live a hilly stroll from Plow. But! I do have the cookbook, gifted to me by my brother and sister-in-law (who know me too well) for my birthday last year. We stopped by for dinner, and I watched Sheila dress a huge salad with something creamy and delicious-looking. She said casually, “Oh, the recipe’s from this book.” Then my brother handed me a brown sugar mint julep. “Oh, it’s also from that book,” he mentioned.
I sipped, I paged through the book, I ogled sweet potato scones with brown sugar icing, and I pondered whether I should order the book right then and there or wait until I got home.
Then my brother handed me a wrapped gift. I opened it, and it was the book.
It was the best thing that ever happened to anyone.
Aside from these juleps, which we’ve been loving ever since. They get a simple update from muscovado sugar and citrus juice (they use lemon but I prefer lime) to embody their California roots. First you make a simple syrup with muscovado sugar and tons of fresh mint, then you crush more mint which you shake with the syrup, some bourbon, and lime juice. Pour it over crushed ice and you’ll have yourself one heckuva refreshing cocktail. This one gets the balance of flavors just right to my taste: not too sweet, plenty minty, with an extra hit of flavor from the deep, dark muscovado sugar. When I’m too hurried to crush ice in the blender, I pour the julep over cubed ice and top it off with fizzy water.
Either way, mint juleps make me happy. So do cookbooks.
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Muscovado Mint Juleps
Adapted from Brown Sugar Kitchen
I recommend a smooth bourbon for these drinks. Elijah Craig is quite affordable and tastier than other bourbons in its price range. Four Roses comes recommended by Brown Sugar Kitchen. I’ve made the syrup with both an unrefined muscobado sugar by Alter Eco, and a light muscovado sugar. Light or dark brown sugar will work, too; the darker the sugar, the more lovely molasses flavor and deep color the finished drink will have. For an extra floral variation, try the vanilla version below.
Muscovado Mint Syrup (enough for many drinks):
1 cup (7 ounces / 200 grams) light or dark muscovado (or brown) sugar
1 cup water
leaves from 1 large bunch mint (1 cup packed)
The Julep (makes 1):
several mint leaves, plus one or two pretty sprigs for garnish
1/4 cup bourbon (such as Elijah Craig or Four Roses)
2 tablespoons muscovado mint syrup (above)
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
ice (crushed if you like)
sparkling water (optional, if using cubed ice)
Make the syrup:
In a medium pot, bring the sugar and water to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and add the mint. Cover and let steep 20 minutes. Strain the syrup through a fine-mesh sieve and into a heat-proof container. Let cool. Cover and chill until cold, 2 hours. (Can be made up to a few weeks ahead and stored airtight in the refrigerator.)
Make the juleps:
Place the mint leaves in a cocktail shaker or jar and crush lightly. Add the bourbon, muscovado syrup, lime juice, and a few ice cubes. Stir or shake until cold, 30 seconds, then strain into a glass packed with crushed ice. Top with more crushed ice, garnish with the mint sprig, and serve. (If using cubed ice, top the drink of with a spritz of fizzy water.)Variation: Muscovado Vanilla Mint Juleps
Add half of a vanilla bean to the syrup along with the sugar.