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The Crimson Hour: Mihamian Mother's Mint Julep

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In which we take part in a conglomeration of American traditions because, like the universal DH, utterly abandoning tradition is an abomination.

If anyone asks, tell them your drinking a wheatgrass soda.
If anyone asks, tell them your drinking a wheatgrass soda.

When fans' feet on the pavement quicken toward the gates, we cease to measure the length of the day with clocks, whose ticks and tocks now distend ever more noiselessly until we count beats and rhythms in pitches and swings. We frame periods in innings and recover a more intimate acquaintance with beginnings and endings, with the origin of finitude. This is the hour for hushed vitality, for precise attention, for active sensation—sight, sound, touch, but most of all smell and taste. This is the crimson hour.

Welcome to Mothers' Day weekend! [Ed. Note: Haha, SIKE! It's not Mothers' Day this Sunday and I knew that all along.] Kentucky Derby weekend! And a Phillies trip, leaving from a city so bored by baseball they pride themselves on being polite, to a city so fervent about baseball it's stadium hosts an amusement park art museum! [Ed. Note: I desperately needed an editor this morning.] After all, what says "baseball" more than this painting by Joan Miro:

Miro Marlins

Now, far be it from me to criticize others for fusing high-minded pursuits with a love of baseball. But that Miro painting puts me into a calm, exploratory, bewildered mood that inhibits rooting for much of anything. Who is the anteater bottom-center? Is he forlorn? Or trepidatious in the face of a foreign land home to hills that return your gaze and gibbeted giraffe-bears? With questions like these swirling in the mind, it is impossible to hope against hope that Jerome Williams will dance his changeup past Giancarlo Stanton's bat or that Chase Utley will drive a ball into the right-centerfield gap that plop into Marcel Ozuna's glove. For, what does any of that really matter anyway in light of the anteater's adventure? If we want to enhance our sensory engagement with baseball, best to stick with taste and smell and leave psychedelic visuals for another hour.

As you might have anticipated, this weekend's cocktail is the Mint Julep, a venerable cocktail now associated with hats and horses but once as common a morning tipple as coffee is today. The name ‘Julep' probably comes from a middle-eastern drink called a ‘Julab' in Arabic. That drink was made with water and rose petals, and as merchants introduced it to the western Mediterranean the rose petals were replaced with mint. At some point in the 18th century, an intrepid person—most likely an American because who else would mix invention with spirits—swapped out the water for whatever liquor was available, be it rum, gin, or whiskey. And since whiskey became the predominant liquor in the States, the Mint Julep became a whiskey-based cocktail. At first, farmers would drink this refreshing mix of whiskey, water, sugar and mint shortly after sunrise and just before sauntering into the field for another day of hard labor. They've stopped doing that now. I have no idea why.

Of course, we modern humans know the Mint Julep as the Official Drink of the Kentucky DerbyTM. Every year we watch hours of men in white cotton suits and women in sundresses sipping from white tin cups brimming with crushed ice and a sprig of mint peaking over the rim just for the thrill of a few minutes where the most well-bred, trained, and medicated horses vie for the sake of someone else's glory. From those opaque cups the attendees drink a saccharine mix of mint simple syrup and whisky, or so I imagine in my throes of socialist envy. Such a sweet Julep is nice but not wonderful. A great Julep is spicy, cold, and, above all, boozy. And that's what we'll try to achieve this weekend using the following recipe, which I have lifted from Michael Ruhlman.

Tools: Mortar and Pestle, Low Ball or Rocks Glass, Fine Mesh Strainer

Ingredients: Whiskey, Sugar, Fresh Mint, Small Lime Wedge, Ice

  1. Place Glass in freezer.
  2. Place about 10 Mint leaves (reserve sprig), two tsps Sugar, and ½ oz Whiskey in Mortar.
  3. Pulverize Mint, Sugar and Whiskey until the leaves are shredded into tiny pieces.
  4. Pour 2.5 oz Whiskey into Mortar and let sit for a minute.
  5. Meanwhile fill Glass with ice and place reserved sprig in it as garnish.
  6. Pour contents of Mortar into Glass through Fine Mesh Strainer and press Mint residue to extract all of the minted Whiskey from the leaves.
  7. Squeeze Lime juice into drink and enjoy!

(If you don't have a mortar and pestle you can just muddle the mint with the sugar and whiskey in the bottom of a mixing glass or shaker. You won't get the spiciness of the mint as strongly, but you will get the minty flavor. And if you don't have a muddler, you can always use the end of a butter knife's handle, which is what I used to do before I owned a muddler.)

Normally, I would use lemon juice to finish the cocktail but since the Phillies are in Miami this weekend I thought I'd incorporate a flavor more closely associated with the cuisine there. This small hit of citrus brightens the drink and cuts through the sugar so that you get the spice of the crushed mint and the malt of the whiskey. I'm still using Dickel sour mash, although I'm regretting it. I like their rye whiskey but the sour mash is thin and one-note. I'd rather have Bulleit or Four Roses on the bar for mixing.

As a rule, I don't pump my cocktails full of ice because the water inevitably ruins the delicate balance of flavors. But in Mint Juleps I think the water helps open up the cocktail and the Mint Julep is best when it is extremely cold, which just can't be achieved without lots of ice.

Notice that there are two shots of whiskey in this drink. That means after the first one you should either stop or commit yourself to getting nothing done the rest of the day.

And now a toast:

When this weekend series closes, the Phillies might have 18 defeats. Nevertheless, let's celebrate our mothers with roses while watching Revere stop short in pink cleats.