John Dabney's Hail-Storm Mint Julep
Recipe adapted from a written description by John Dabney's son, Wendell, by culinary historian Robert Moss
Ingredients (makes 1 drink)
- 1 tablespoon pulverized or superfine white sugar (see note below)
- 2 ½ tablespoons water
- 4 sprigs of fresh mint for the julep base + 4 more for garnish
- 3 ounces of real peach brandy (or apple brandy, dark rum, Cognac, or any combination of the three if you can't find real peach brandy)
- Shaved or pounded ice (see note below)
- Assorted berries (e.g. strawberries, raspberries, blackberries) and small pieces of fruits (e.g. oranges, pineapple) for garnish
- Assorted flower blossoms for garnish (optional)
First, make the julep base. In a large glass tumbler or silver cup, combine the sugar and water and stir until blended. Put four sprigs of mint into the tumbler and press well with a muddler or the end of a bar spoon to squeeze out the oils and extract the mint flavor, but not so hard that you bruise or pulverize the leaves. Remove the mint from the tumbler and discard. Add the brandy (or rum, Cognac, or any combination of the three) and stir.
Next, the ice. Fill the tumbler completely with shaved ice and add more on top, mounding into a pyramid of ice rising above glass.
Finally, the decorations, and this is where the julepmaker’s skill and creativity really come into play. Take several more sprigs of mint and insert them into the ice with their stems downward, arranging the leaves into a green bouquet. Arrange the berries and cut fruit amid the mint and ice, and add a few flowers among them. If you are really ambitious, take more shaved ice, mold it into ornamental shapes and figures, and press them against the side of the goblet so they stick to the chilled glass or silver. (Don’t worry if you can’t get this last part right. Dabney’s own son, Wendell, who tried to imitate his father while working alongside him during summers at the resort springs, admitted, "I could never make the ice stick on the outside of a big mint julep.")
Once the decoration is complete, insert a long straw (preferably silver or stainless steel, if you have one) into the ice and all the way to the bottom of the goblet and serve. Your guests should be suitably impressed.
Notes on Ingredients:
- Pulverized or superfine sugar is not the same as powdered sugar, which generally contains starch. To make pulverized sugar, simply put plain white sugar into a food processor and pulse for one minute until it is reduced almost to a powder.
- Shaved or pounded ice is essential for making a proper julep. John Dabney used to shave his ice with a carpenter’s plane mounted blade side up with wooden sides below to catch the falling bits of ice. At home, the easiest way is to put ice cubes in a large canvas bag or wrap them in a clean towel and pound them with a rolling pin or a mallet.