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The following post is sponsored by Frangelico. Cocktail name, development, recipe and photography are completely my own. Check out Frangelico online and follow them on Facebook for more exciting recipes.
Is it summer finally? Are we there yet, Mother Nature?
Up here in
the tundra Montreal, the warm weather has been *such* a tease lately. We’ve had one of those springs where two days of delightful, sun-dappled, sleeve-shedding weather are followed by a near-week of chilly, damp, Debbie Downer-weather.
At times like this, I find that crafting a pre-emptively summery cocktail helps. It’s like a
rainsundance for fanciful imbibers like us! (Here in French Canada, we might call it a bellwether for belle weather! *har*har*snort!)
A julep’s got most everything I look for in a summertime cocktail. The crushed ice keeps the drink colder, longer and the mint’s cooling and refreshing. But the bourbon — can I do one better on the bourbon? I love (read: luuurrrve) bourbon’s languid sweetness, but how about lightening up its syrupy-ness with some more playful flavors, a little tartness and an unexpected grace note or
two three: A hint of nuttiness, a whiff of vanilla, a certain je ne sais noisette? (p.s. Bonus points if I can do all this without glopping on a ton of calories. What up, bathing suit?)
To make the Summertime Smash, I improved upon (if I do say so myself) the julep by halving the bourbon and replacing it with Frangelico. The hazelnut-flavored liqueur, more delicate in flavor and body, makes for a less heavy cocktail and one with more going on in the glass. The flavor of the Frangelico also allowed me to introduce some lemon into the recipe.
(Note: I know it seems that a plain-old julep, nothing but mint and bourbon, should pair easily with lemon, but you’d be surprised. It needs a bridge ingredient, a harmony-maker if you will. Enter Frangelico!) (I’ve also done this before with ginger beer.)
Once the hubs and I open our backyard for the season, I’m thinking the Summertime Smash may end up my go-to cocktail for entertaining al fresco. I have a hunch that those friends who find my mint juleps too heavy and cloying will appreciate the more lilting qualities of the Summertime Smash, while those who do love juleps will enjoy the refreshing, slightly fizzy presto-change-up. (Which I’ve also done before; see World’s Greatest Rye Perfect Manhattan.)
Hey, summer? Ready when you are.
The Summertime Smash
1 ounce Frangelico
1 ounce bourbon (I used Buffalo Trace)
1 teaspoon sweetener of choice (granulated sugar, simple syrup, or mint-steeped simple syrup; see Tasting Notes below for recipes and tips)
A splash of two lemon-spiked seltzer
About 8 large mint leaves
Mint sprig and lemon wheel, to garnish
Place mint leaves in bottom of a rocks glass. (It’s up to you whether you want to use a highball, a Collins glass, etc.) Pour sweetener on top of leaves and muddle together well. Fill glass with crushed ice. Pour in bourbon, then Frangelico. Top with seltzer. Give the drink a gentle stir, then add your garnish. Enjoy!
My preferred method for making simple syrup is to mix equal parts sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. As soon as the mixture reaches a boil, turn off heat and let cool to room temperature, then store in the fridge.
To make mint-steeped syrup, add a good handful of mint leaves to the above mixture as soon as you’ve removed it from heat. Let the leaves steep 10 or so minutes, then strain them from the mixture and toss.
If you choose granulated sugar as your sweetener, pour just a teaspoon or so of water on top of your mint and sugar before muddling. The liquid acts like a hood that keeps the mint’s fragrance down in the bottom of the glass where you want it, rather than allowing it to release into the air.
Make lemon-spiked seltzer by simply squeezing a lemon wedge into a liter-sized bottle of seltzer. Or, you can just use plain seltzer when making your cocktail, then squeeze a little lemon over your Summertime Smash to finish it off.
So the Triple Crown wound up being a big bust this year. And even though the news is kinda bittersweet/poignant/ironic for us alkies who thought we’d finally found our spirit animal in a horse named I’ll Have Another, it’s no bigs. Let’s keep sippin’ juleps all the same. Let’s just make ‘em stiffer to take the edge off.
Came across this recipe from so-awesome-I-must-slay-him-in-order-to-become-him David Wondrich on Liquor.com and knew we had to try it. Have I ever done a white julep before? Wait… have I never done a white julep before?!? Where’s my brain? (Blotto’d on moonshine, obvs.)
I haven’t told you yet how I spent my New Year’s Eve, have I? Silly me. You’re likely kvetching to know what a pretend professional drinker does on Alcoholics’ Feast Day. (It’s in the Bible, look it up.)
Our evening began early-ish, in the five o’clock hour (it’s not just a blog, it’s a thing you can do!), with the best pizza in the world and a list of champagne cocktails to make. Earlier, we’d picked up a cheapo bottle of bubbles, and of course to get every penny’s worth of the $9.97 you just spent on lowercase-c champagne so embarrassingly embarrassing that I refuse to even mention it by name here, you have to plan for several fizzy drinks at once.
How did I never manage to invent the Maple Mint Fizz myself? Why did I have to move to Montreal to discover it?
The answer to the first question is: I did come close with the Martelorre (Maker’s, lemon, mint, ginger beer). To answer my second question: Because Le LAB is where everything wonderful, like Maple Mint Fizzes, happens, and also because only in Canada would “our variation of the mojito” include maple syrup.
Platitude-y as it sounds, the only secret ingredients in the World’s Greatest Mint Julep are care and time. There is no rare species of mint to hunt down and you can use pretty much any brand of bourbon you want. Most everyone (myself included) uses Maker’s Mark. Woodford Reserve is widely considered to be an appropriate top-shelf upgrade, but that’s mostly marketing hype (Woodford being the “official” bourbon of the Kentucky Derby). A julep’s mint and sugar bludgeon subtlety right out of any whiskey. This is not a bad thing. It is, in fact, a most yummy bludgeoning.
I do not advocate making juleps in large batches. What I do when I make an individual mint julep is this. I take pinches of fresh mint leaves and I tear them all in two before dropping them into my julep cup. I do this until the bottom of the cup is covered. Then I pour just enough mint-steeped simple syrup in there to cover the leaves. (To make mint syrup: Make simple syrup on the stove in a pot. The moment you hit boiling, turn off the flame and toss in a handful of mint leaves. Stir a bit. Once it’s cool, strain syrup into container.)
I muddle for longer than is comfortable and I listen all the while for that telltale crunch of the leaves’ veins submitting to me. The reason I first covered the leaves with syrup is, once you start smashing those leaves, they start releasing oils and aromatics, and if the leaves were uncovered and dry, all of that would just escape into the air. The syrup keeps those flavoring agents in the bottom of the glass where they belong.