Mint Julep all frosty
Mint juleps have a long and storied history. The drink can be a little intimidating to prepare as everyone has his own twist on the mint julep recipe. For me it boils down to quality ingredients and simple preparation so the quality can shine through.
First, the mint. You can usually find decent mint at the grocery store. But if you like this drink and start drinking mint juleps regularly, that grocery store mint is going to start to add up. It is far better to just grow your own.
You can substitute a rocks glass for the silver julep cup if you wish. But to make this drink properly you need a silver julep cup. It doesn't have to be solid silver and cost $400. A plated one will do fine and frost up quite nicely. Glass is an insulator and you will need to stir a lot longer before you frost it up.
The idea behind the sprig of mint and the cut straw in this mint julep recipe is so you get a heavy dose of mint aroma while you enjoy this drink. Burying your nose in the mint as you sip from the straw is one of life's finer pleasures.
Some recipes call for the mint to only be used for a garnish. Mint flavored syrup is used instead in the actual drink. I like the mint in the drink. If you do use mint syrup, try making your own. Just make a simple syrup and steep mint leaves in it for 10-20 minutes. The more mint the better.
I use Basil Hayden or Knob Creek bourbon in my juleps. I had a mint julep at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and they used Basil Hayden. This julep was one of the best I've ever had. Basil Hayden has more rye in it than most bourbons which lends some body to a mint julep recipe. It is also 80 proof, so you will have a drink that starts off not so strong as Knob Creek which is 100 proof. I have had some people complain that the drink is too strong when they first sip it. Well it is a strong drink, but it mellows as the ice melts. With Knob Creek, the mellowing takes longer but this also lets you linger over the drink a little longer before it wets out.
Back in the 19th Century mint julep recipes called for brandy or rye. Either will make an excellent mint julep and if you use both Cognac and rye whiskey together, you have a Prescription Julep as mentioned in Dave Wondrich's Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash.