Mint is starting to grow in the garden right now. It's just beginning to poke out of the soil but still...this is good news. Sure there might be a frost or two yet to come or some freakish cold snap, but once the mint starts to appear spring really feels like it has some momentum. This is the sort of thing that warrants celebratory cocktails. I'm not a great gardener but mint is pretty low-maintenance. It does spread like crazy though so look out if you're going to grow your own. Or don't and just plan on having a ton of it for the summer. Once it does start to join in the backyard bird-chirping spring shenanigans, it's usually available by the bunch in grocery stores. Which is good because mine is still probably a few weeks away from being usable. One thing I've noticed though is that a lot of international markets sell mint by the bag (and it's not a small bag) for only a couple of dollars. There's easily enough for 5-6 drinks in those bags.

Mint Juleps - Bourbon
Mint Juleps - Bourbon

Keep it simple. Mint, a little simple syrup and a bunch of bourbon. Yeah, it takes a few minutes to make but this drink practically demands to be sipped slowly, outside, while the rest of the world goes about its business. Mint season is also the beginning of yard sale and flea market season where julep cups can be found for a few bucks. Occasionally.

Mint Julep - Brandy and Rum
Mint Julep - Brandy and Rum

Another julep. Bourbon wasn't always inextricably linked to the Mint Julep. This version is mostly cognac with a float of Jamaican rum on top.

Eastsides
Eastsides

Cucumber and gin, nothing to see here, keep moving. Oh wait, lime and mint? Ok, fine. Cucumbers are easy to grow too, and while there is certainly an abundance of drinks in which it's included some of them are worth making now and then. Some of them are even mind-blowing (Gunshop Fizz). This one isn't, mind-blowing, but that's fine, it's still a tasty drink on a warm afternoon. Pairing it with mint is often a solid bet even in drinks where the mint is used only as garnish (Pimm's cup). If you prefer drinks that don't taste like vegetables though, drop the cucumber and switch the lime juice to lemon for a Southside.

Genever Smash and Prescription Julep
Genever Smash and Prescription Julep

David Wondrich had this to say regarding the combination of cognac and rye in the Prescription Julep - "Cognac and rye whiskey are a marriage made in heaven, the cognac mellowing the rye and the rye adding spice to the cognac." That sentence alone is responsible for at least one bag of mint so far this spring. It is a delicious julep. The genever smash was surprisingly tasty. Basically a less fancy julep using genever as the base spirit.

Art of Choke
Art of Choke

This drink is from Beta Cocktails, a short book packed with amazing, thoroughly enjoyable and unique drinks. The Art of Choke has rum, Cynar, Green Chartreuse, lime juice, demerara sugar and mint. And it disappears far too quickly.

 

Recipes:

Mint Julep - bourbon - Jerry Thomas, 1862
3 oz Bourbon - something bonded works best with all of that crushed ice
1/4 oz Simple Syrup
Mint

Some aspects of this drink's manufacture are sources of contention. Here's how I make mine: crush a bunch of ice. Lightly muddle/press the mint in the base of the serving glass making sure to coat the sides as well with oils from the leaves. I leave most of the mint in the bottom of the glass so that the straw can pick up a little more mint flavor. Pack the glass with as much crushed ice as will fit. Pour in the bourbon and simple and stir it for a few moments. Try and mound some more ice on top, add another sprig or two of mint as garnish and then give it a straw. Cut the straw so that it's just barely above the mint garnish, that way you'll pick up more of the mint's aroma each time you take a sip.

 

Mint Julep - brandy and rum - Jerry Thomas, 1862
3 oz Cognac
1/4 oz Simple Syrup
1/4 oz Jamaican rum - Float
Mint

Prepare same as recipe above but you can add whatever fruit and berries you have around as additional ornamentation. Early recipes also have this drink topped with sugar which you could accomplish by dipping a few sprigs of mint in some water then passing those through some sugar prior to applying as a garnish.

 

Eastside - Imbibe Magazine's Online Recipes
2 oz Gin
1 oz Lime Juice
1/2 oz Simple Syrup
3 Slices Cucumber (1 for garnish)
Mint

Briefly muddle the cucumber and mint. Add the rest, shake with ice, strain into cocktail glass.

 

Genever Smash - Jerry Thomas, 1862
2 oz Genever
1 tsp Sugar
Splash of water (to dissolve sugar)
Mint (some for shaking, some for garnish)
Garnish - Berries and fruit in season (optional)

Dissolve sugar in water. I subbed demerara simple for this one. Add mint. Shake with ice and strain over fresh ice in rocks glass.

 

Prescription Julep - Harper's Monthly, 1857 via David Wondrich's Imbibe
2 oz Cognac
3/4 oz Rye
1 tsp Sugar
Splash of water (to dissolve sugar)
Mint

Prepare same as Juleps above

 

Art of Choke - Kyle Davidson, The Violet Hour, Chicago
1 oz White Rum
1 oz Cynar
+1/4 oz Green Chatreuse
1/8 oz Lime Juice
1/8 oz Demerara Simple (2:1)
Mint (for muddling and garnish)

Muddle a mint sprig with the other ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice, stir and strain over fresh ice in a rocks glass. Garnish.