LeNell Smothers, proprietress of the charmingly quirky LeNell’s liquor store in Red Hook, Brooklyn, is a born-and-bred southerner (and, not incidentally, a bourbon booster and julep lover). On the occasion of this weekend’s Kentucky Derby, she shares a mint-julep recipe, but by no means the definitive one—which, according to Smothers, does not exist. “Juleps were a farmer’s drink,” she says, expounding on a subject she explores thoroughly in an article published in Mixologist: The Journal of the American Cocktail, Volume Two. They’ve been made, over time, with rum, brandy, and rye, and consumed by many a Colonial settler for breakfast. Regarding the mint, there are those who muddle and those who don’t. Smothers grows her own in a bathtub outside her shop.
LeNell Smothers’s Granny’s Whiskey Julep
1 teaspoon Granny’s Not So Simple Syrup* (or Pedro Ximénez cream sherry)
2 dashes Fee Brothers whiskey barrel-aged bitters, available at LeNell’s
5 spearmint leaves
2 ounces 100-proof bourbon or rye
Splash of Prichard’s Tennessee rum
Powdered sugar (optional)
(1) Add simple syrup, bitters, and mint leaves to silver julep cup or well-chilled double old-fashioned glass. (2) Gently muddle the leaves with the syrup and bitters without overly bruising the mint. Remove leaves from syrup and discard. Add crushed ice to fill about 3/4 of the cup. Pour in whiskey. Stir until frost forms on outside of glass. (3) Add more ice to form a mound above the rim of the cup. Top with a healthy splash of rum. Insert sprigs of mint along the side of the cup. Cut a straw so that it rises about an inch or two above the ice when inserted fully into the cup, and place it into the mint sprigs. Dust the top with powdered sugar if desired. *Granny’s Not So Simple Syrup: Add pound of golden raisins to a quart jar. Cover with gin. Let sit for about two weeks.