There are few libations more refreshing than the Mint Julep. It’s more than the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby—it’s actually a historic style of drinks, sweetened spirits served over crushed ice and spiced with mint. Its most common presentation is with bourbon, sugar and muddled mint, served in a metal or silver cup, topped with a mound of crushed ice and garnished with a bounty of mint leaves. However, plenty of variations on this basic recipe exist. One alternate approach is to replace the simple syrup (or raw sugar) with a shrub—a potable, sweetened vinegar. The Shrub Julep is one such version, and it adds an extra level of spicy earthiness with a shrub made with maple syrup, beets and ginger.
Technically, you can use any kind of cocktail shrub in the Shrub Julep, so long as you evaluate the sweetness and balance accordingly, but this recipe is structured around the Maple Beet Shrub, from bartender Casey Elsass. As the founder of Bushwick Kitchen—which produces hot sauces, maple syrup and honey—it’s no wonder Elsass gets creative with cocktail ingredients like this earthy, tangy and slightly spicy shrub. Typically some variety of sugar does the heavy lifting for shrubs, but this time maple syrup offers a perfect hit of character and complexity. And although the beets maybe seem like an odd or unnecessary addition, they actually keep the sweetness in check with a welcome earthiness.
While older recipes for Mint Juleps may have called for Cognac or even peach brandy as the base spirit, this recipe hews closer to modern ones and usedsbourbon. When making the Shrub Mint Julep—or any of its relatives—consider using a bourbon of higher proof than the standard 80. 100-proof bourbons, or even higher proof ones, stand up better to the large amount of crushed ice and the addition of a full ounce of the shrub. It may mean sipping fewer in an evening or risk a rough hangover. But like with all imbibing, quality generally trumps quantity.
- 1 sprig mint
- 2 ounces bourbon
- 1 ounce maple beet shrub
- Garnish: mint sprig
Muddle the mint sprig in a Julep cup or a rocks glass.
Add the maple beet shrub, bourbon and a small scoop of crushed ice and stir.
Top with more crushed ice to fill the glass.
Garnish with a mint sprig.
Serve with a straw.