Though I won’t say I’m sad to see the end of the heatwave that’s been suffocating us here in LA, the end of summer is always bittersweet. Sure, it’s the end of high temperatures and humidity but also the end of summer produce, sandals and warm nights. Granted, we have it easier here during fall and winter than nearly anywhere else but that doesn’t mean we’re any less sorry to see the idylls of summer fade away.
So, on that note, I thumbed through Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts to see what sort of summer cocktail I could mix up as we wave goodbye to the season and hit upon the Cherry Julep. Admittedly, the most famous julep is the Mint Julep, a drink emblematic of both America and advancing summer. Though the bourbon and mint combo has made the style famous, a julep is a drink composed primarily of a base spirit and sugar with cracked ice and mint.
The origins of the julep are something of a mystery but the first reference to the drink appears in 1803, about a spirit steeped with mint and taken as a dram. Though ambiguous at best, this is often assumed to be the first mention of the Mint Julep, rather than the wider class of spirit-and-mint mixtures that are juleps (which are themselves generally considered to be a subset of the smash—a drink with muddled ingredients as the base). Interestingly, the word julep is derived from the Persian word julab, which means “rose water.” Your guess is as good as mine where the association came from, but as rose water was used for medicinal preparations in the Near East, it follows that the name was adopted based on the original, medicinal applications of the julep.
That historical note aside, there was very little medicinal about my use of this cocktail—except perhaps to quell the twinge of sadness about another summer gone by.
1½ oz London dry gin
1 oz sloe gin
1 oz cherry brandy
1½ teaspoons maraschino cherry syrup
juice of ½ lemon
Mix all ingredients except club soda in mixing glass with ice. Pour into a Collins glass filled with ice and top with club soda. Garnish with lemon, maraschino cherry and sprig of mint.
Though delightfully cherry-flavored in its original form, I did adapt this recipe somewhat from the original in the Handbook for Hosts. The 1953 recipe uses 1 teaspoon of maraschino syrup and 1 teaspoon of sugar, which seemed to me to be ridiculously sweet, particularly in conjunction with the sloe gin and cherry brandy. I compromised by upping the maraschino syrup and eliminating the sugar, which added a bit more “cherry” flavor and a pinch of sweetness without sending me into sugar shock. The original recipe also did not call for mint of any kind, which I remedied via the garnish.
I found that the lovely scent of mint added just the sort of punch this drink needed and, were I to mix it again, I would likely bruise a few mint leaves before mixing to add a little oomph. Otherwise, I was glad I left out the sugar—as this verged on being too sweet—but the overall mix of cherry and sloeberry flavors worked itself out well, in addition to imparting a beautiful color. Overall I was very happy with this, though it needs a little work before I serve it to anyone else.