It’s been a while since I have posted a cocktail here, which has primarily to do with the fact that I’ve now been sick twice in three weeks. Unusual, I know, especially for someone who generally doesn’t get sick more than once a year, but sadly true. This cold has kept me in or near bed for most of January—a fact which neither pleases nor excites me. I’m feeling much better today, though, and as such I’ve followed my doctor’s standing orders and am taking a dram to cure what ails me.
Amusingly, this is the cocktail Ted was drinking the last time we were able to visit a bar together when he was the one being assailed by a cold. As such, the aptly named Prescription Julep is an accepted cure-all for these pesky viruses, the word “julep” being very old and, for a good portion of its history, associated with medicinal potions for ensuring health and vitality. The ingredients and applications have varied over the centuries, but julep has been interpreted in Middle English, Persian and many other languages as a flavored syrup, which is obviously still true to a large extent. Referenced in many sources, including Milton and Pepys, juleps medicinal, alcoholic or non, are an old favorite of the Old South—though we can’t be exactly sure when mint came in to the equation—and an American icon.
This julep, made with brandy and rye whiskey, was published (humorously) in Harper’s Monthly during the nineteeth century and republished by Dave Wondrich in Imbibe!. Spicy, sweet, complex and delicious, it really does help you cope with a sickness… mostly by inducing naps. Look no further for the ultimate julep for a cold night by the fire—or even a summer day by the pool.
1½ oz cognac
½ oz rye whiskey
½ oz bar sugar and 1 oz warm water OR ½ oz simple syrup (to taste)
8-12 leaves fresh spearmint
In a glass or julep cup, mix the sugar and water or add the simple syrup. Gently muddle the mint leaves with the sugar syrup—do not break them up or mash them into bits. You just want to bruise them. Add the whiskey and cognac and stir to combine. Fill the glass with crushed ice and stir again, until the glass begins to frost. Top off the glass with crushed ice to fill, garnish with fresh mint and serve with a straw.
Though identical to the usual bourbon mint julep in execution, the flavor here is quite different. The cognac provides an earthy base compared to the sweet, vanilla-caramel flavor that is characteristic of bourbon. Rye whiskey has a spicy flavor profile which coaxes more complexity out of the cognac and mint, providing a lovely, fragrant herbal flavor along with the charming notes of mint and sweetness. If you’re feeling a bit devil-may-care, feel free to follow Paul Clarke’s lead and add a sprinkle of Jamaican rum on top before serving. It’s a well-accepted julep touch that will gild the lily in this fabulous old cocktail.