Saturday, May 1, 2010

Nick Charles vs James Bond

Mint Julep

As a teenager, I had dreams of moving to New York and living the life of Nick Charles of The Thin Man fame.  I blame William Powell with my obsession with doing things with a reverence for tradition.  While most young men of my era wanted to be Ian Fleming’s James Bond, I aspired to be Dashiell Hammett’s  Nick Charles, the ultimate New York bon vivant.  Bond’s heavy handed approach to cocktails, “A Martini, shaken, not stirred.”  could not be compared to Charles' precise directions for using a cocktail shaker, “The important thing is the rhythm. Always have rhythm in your shaking. Now a Manhattan you shake to fox-trot time, a Bronx to two-step time, a Dry Martini you always shake to waltz time. “ (Today I follow Auntie Mame's advice, "Always stir, never shake.  You'll bruise the Gin.)

Today is the first Saturday in May.  While workers around the planet are marching to celebrate International Workers Day, here in the South ladies are donning their hats and men are arguing over the proper way to make a Mint Julep.  It is the day of the running of the Kentucky Derby, the oldest continuously running sporting event in America.  I’m not quite sure when they first started serving Mint Juleps at the Derby, but today the “official recipe” has been usurped by corporate America and the Early Times Distillery Company.  While the official recipe calls for using a simple syrup infused with mint, I assure you that such an approach is far from the original.  Here’s how I make a Mint Julep...with reverence.


  • 6 Spearmint leaves
  • 1 tsp fine sugar
  • Cracked ice
  • 3 oz (2 jiggers Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon)
  1. First, select your glass, or tin.  I not sure why the silver tumbler is so sought after.  I suspect that glass was too fragile to take out for a sporting event, but since most of us will be watching from the comfort of our family rooms, glass is perfectly acceptable.  Personally, I like to be able to admire my drink through the glass.  The size of the glass does matter.  I prefer an 8 oz highball class.  Most prefer a larger glass, but I will leave the debate over giant cocktails for a later post.  Whether silver or glass, start with a dry glass.
  2. Add mint, then sugar, & bruise the leaves a bit with a bar spoon or muddler.  Now, here’s our first point of debate.  Most purists agree that the mint should not be macerated, i.e. worked into a paste, and all will agree that the leaves must be bruised sufficiently to release the Spearmint oils.  I subscribe to the theory that you must be able to look cool while you prepare the drink.  Therefore I say taunt the mint, but don’t torment it.
  3. Fill the glass with cracked ice.  I read one recipe that insisted the ice should be like that used for a “snow cone”.  That, again, smacks of excess.  I happily have a fridge that produces perfectly cracked ice.  You can always take ice cubes and pulse them a couple of times in the blender, just don’t let anyone see you do it.
  4. Add the Bourbon and stir.  The choice of Bourbon is an intensely personal affair. I like my Wild Turkey 101, but I will admit there are other acceptable spirits.  However, I would advise against any that already have an overly sweet taste.  Whatever Bourbon you use, stir it until the glass frosts.
  5. Garnish with mint and serve.  A straw is optional, but I prefer to get my nose down into the drink to appreciate the aroma.

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