Around Derby Day, swap bourbon for an old-fashioned gin.
Early last month, on the Friday before the Kentucky Derby, I found myself in my corner market looking for fresh mint, and not finding any. When I asked the grocer, he just shook his head and said “Juleps.”
While today, a mint julep is “the” drink to serve on Derby Weekend, it’s rarely served at any other time. However, during the century or so before prohibition, the julep was, perhaps, America’s favorite summertime tipple.
Juleps are a mixture of spirits, mint, sugar and ice. In 19th-century julep recipes, Cognac (sometimes mixed peach brandy, rye whiskey or rum) was the spirit of choice, but modern-day julep recipes almost always call for bourbon.
One of my favorite julep recipes goes a totally different way. It happens to be found in the world’s first cocktail guide, Jerry Thomas’ 1862 book, “How to Mix Drinks, or the Bon-Vivants Companion.” It’s actually a gin julep, and the type of gin Thomas would have used is genever, also known as Dutch gin, as it’s a traditional liquor of the Netherlands.
Genever differs greatly in style from today’s more popular “London dry” type of gin. It’s malty, slightly sweet and fuller-bodied — imagine something like a cross between London dry gin and Irish whiskey. And in a gin julep, genever’s maltiness and its juniper flavor marry well with the mint and sugar to create a very refreshing summertime drink.
Until very recently, genever was almost impossible to find stateside. (I used to beg friends with layovers in Amsterdam to get me a bottle or two from duty-free.) But in 2008, Bols, the world’s oldest producer of genever, started a campaign to reintroduce it to the U.S. market. Genever can now be found in many American liquor stores.
So the next time you’re looking for a surefire sozzler to serve at you next summer party, whip up a batch of genever juleps. You won’t regret it.
The Genever Julep:
6 tbsp. of genever
6 sprigs of mint
2 tbsp. of room temperature water
1 tbsp. of superfine sugar
Add the sugar, water, and four sprigs of mint to a 10-12 ounce tumbler. Thoroughly muddle the mint with a wooden muddler (or, in a pinch, with a wooden mixing spoon) and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Pour in the genever, stir well, and fill the glass with crushed ice. Garnish with the two remaining sprigs of mint, and serve with a straw.
Gamliel Kronemer writes the Fruit of the Vine column for the paper.
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