garden mint juleps

I know that I am about a month late to celebrate the deliciousness of mint juleps; the Kentucky Derby, the event that prompts one to don fabulous hats and sip on this refreshing cocktail, happens every second week in May.  Although my timeliness is a little off, the mint in my backyard is, at last, ragingly fragrant, ripe, and ready for the picking.  Fresh mint simply screams for homemade iced tea, mojitos, and, of course, mint juleps.

If you’ve ever planted mint, you know that it takes over your yard, and soon, you have more mint than you know what to do with.  All summer long, you can unabashedly toss it into freshly brewed iced tea, or you can take a small amount of time to make some mint simple syrup that can transform your cocktails, teas, and other concoctions.

Baby mint sprigs ready for harvest. Mint thrives in partial shade environments and will take over your yard or garden, if you let it. It makes a great ground cover and always makes you smile, when you “accidentally” step on it.

How do you harvest mint?  Simply take some garden shears and cut just above what I call a “t” line.  Don’t cut the entire stalk off from the ground.  Select a stalk and count up at least two or three leaves up.  Cut just above the leaves, as shown below.  Easy!

Clipping the mint leaves.

Ingredients for Mint Simple Syrup

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar {I use raw sugar}
  • 2 cups freshly cut, coarsely chopped mint {stalks are fine}

Steps for preparing the Syrup

  1. Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil and dissolve sugar by stirring.
  2. Remove from heat, upon being dissolved.
  3. Place chopped mint into a bowl or Mason jar and pour simple syrup on top.
  4. Set aside for two hours, so that the mint steeps.
  5. Pour the mixture through a fine sieve or chinois and place in an airtight container.  The syrup keeps refrigerated for about a week.

Be sure to set aside a few sprigs of mint to use to garnish your mint juleps.  Snip a few sprigs and place them in a vase of water.  They will survive on your table or counter-top for several days, storing them in this manner.

Making the mint julep cocktail is the easiest part of the process, once your mint simple syrup is made.  Simply pack a cocktail glass full of shaved or crushed ice, pour bourbon on top, add the mint simple syrup, stir the cocktail, and top with a mint sprig!  I found the most adorable glass stirrers from a vintage-modern shop here in town, Lee Alex Decor, one of my favorite places to find cocktail accessories.  I couldn’t resist the garden theme!

Ingredients for the Garden Julep

  • 1 1/2 ounces bourbon
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of mint simple syrup {to taste}
  • crushed ice
  • mint sprig, for garnish

I picked up this Colorado-made bourbon from Divino Wine and Spirits, off Broadway, in Denver this afternoon.  Peach Street Distillers makes some of the most innovative spirits.  They are a small-batch operation, based in Pallisade, Colorado, and only make about a barrel a day {talk about small-batch!}.  The corn is sourced from the western slope of Colorado, and the final result is an aromatic, hand-numbered, balanced bourbon.  If you can get your hands on it, do so!

One other side note:  mint juleps are traditionally made with crushed or shaved ice.  If you are unable to find some {one friend of mine says that Good Times sells it by the bag!}, simply place ice cubes in a clean t-shirt or cheesecloth, cover, and smash several time with a mallet or hammer.  That’s what I had to do today!

Jayme Henderson

Occupationally speaking, I am a sommelier and mixologist at a busy, upscale Denver restaurant. I am lucky enough to spend most days tasting, pairing, and creating, alongside my cherished guests. I am also a contributor at the Kitchn, where I write about wine and gardening, tour cooks' kitchens, and interview innovative growers and makers. When I am not wearing those shoes, you can find me in my garden, preserving, painting, designing, and documenting my experiences along the way. I'm currently learning calligraphy and trying my best at home brewing. And I am seriously obsessed with my cats. And rosé.

June 8, 2013

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3 Comments

  1. Reply

    Stacey

    August 10, 2019

    Hi Jayme. I was reading your recipe for mint simple syrup and I have to ask…what is a chinois? I attempted to look it up, but no word like it is found regarding a sieve. I have to say the mint simple syrup is genius! My wife makes a mint/lime iced drink where she uses sugar, but I’m going to make the syrup and have her try it instead. Sounds wonderful! Thanks for the idea and recipe. From Idaho…

    • Reply

      Jayme Henderson

      August 10, 2019

      Hi! So sorry for the confusion! It’s the French term for a strainer, so I was channeling my former restaurant days! Just use a fine-mesh strainer for the syrup. I find it so easy and less messy to use a syrup, rather than muddling the mint. I hope you all get to enjoy some mint juleps in these last, summery days! We are long overdue for some!! Cheers from Hotchkiss, Colorado!

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