A friend recently told me that she drank her very first mint julep in New Orleans. At Pat O’Brien’s in New Orleans, specifically, which is an institution known more for the frosty, potent, sweet, I-want-to-get-drunk-but-it-seems-like-so-much-work Hurricane cocktail.
But still: a mint julep in New Orleans! So Southern. So perfect and complete an experience… Except that she was too young to appreciate a good bourbon — or any bourbon — at the time, and found it downright disgusting.
What an astoundingly good decision, made at such an astoundingly bad time. (My love life called; it wants its schtick back.)
I’m not sure she would have felt differently about this particular version of the mint julep. It is inspired by dessert, and a very Southern one at that: the Derby Pie, which is made with pecans or walnuts, chocolate, and good manners. Dessert roots don’t necessarily mean that this is Hurricane-level drinking, though. This is still very much a proper julep, complete with a respectable 3.0 ounces of Kentucky gold.
It’s a little sweet, sure, but not overly so, and in a sophisticated way — the sweetness is not plain old sugar, but a blush of nutty pecan and cocoa nib syrup. I made mine the same way as orgeat, the oh-so-French tiki staple. But, because it has no almonds and no orange blossom water, and I’m honestly not sure how much we can keep adding and subtracting from Thing 1 before it becomes Thing 2, we’ll just call it a syrup.
Also, this is America. We have horses to race and bourbon to drink and big hats to wear. Cheers to you, and you, and you.
Also, part two: I made this for the Maker’s Mark #JulepOff challenge, which is a big shebang featuring a bunch of awesome bloggers (…and me) putting their most creative foot forward. It’s happening over on Pinterest starting on Friday, so if this baby speaks to you, please repin it from the Maker’s Mark board. If not, no worries — we can have Hurricanes later! Maybe.
- 2 cups pecan halves
- 1 1/2 cups organic cane sugar
- 1 1/4 cups water
- 1/4 cup cocoa nibs
- 2 tablespoons vodka (or bourbon, if you don't plan to use this for other drinks)
- 8 mint leaves
- 2 teaspoons pecan-cocoa syrup
- 3 ounces bourbon
- Plenty of crushed ice
- Additional mint, for garnish
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and spread out pecans on a cookie sheet. Toast for about 6 minutes in the oven, tossing occasionally. Let pecans cool.
- Process pecans and cocoa nibs in a food processor until ground to a fine meal and set aside.
- In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and water and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Stir to make sure all the sugar is dissolved. Add ground pecans and cocoa nibs and lower the heat to low, then simmer for a couple more minutes, but do not let the mixture boil. When it's about to boil, remove it from heat, cover, and set aside.
- Steep mixture overnight, or at least 4 hours or so.
- After mixture is steeped, strain it through a cheesecloth, squeezing out as much liquid as possible. Stir in vodka or bourbon.
- Muddle mint leaves and syrup in the bottom of a julep cup (or a roughly 8-10 ounce glass). Fill glass with crushed ice, then pour bourbon over the ice. Give it a nice little stir, then top with more ice and your minty garnish.