Perhaps she had already had two drinks. Perhaps it had been only one. Whatever the case, the adage that “drinking breaks down inhibitions about further drinking “now seemed particularly relevant.
She tilted her head in a manner suggesting the former.
“I’ll have a mint julep,” she cooed.
Her similarly tilted headed friend giggled and added a “me too”.
“Have you ladies ever had a mint julep?” I asked.
“Nooo…” they answered in unison.
“But it’s almost the Derby,” said the original tilter. “And I think we should.”
Unassailable logic for her perhaps, except that the Derby and even the Preakness had already passed.
I set to work muddling the mint. Placing it in the bottom of two glasses I added a splash of simple syrup and ice. Using my wooden muddler I proceeded to grind up the ice and mint in a quick up and down motion. I then added some bourbon, shaking both juleps before pouring them into glasses and topping them with soda water.
The Tilting Twins tasted.
“Yuck,” they said again in unison. “These are terrible.”
Yes, yes they are. In fact I put the Mint Julep at number one in my top four all time worst cocktails. Here is that list.
Jeff’s all time worst cocktails:
- The Mint Julep, despite its long and distinguished pedigree, is one of the worst tasting cocktails that I have ever had. In fact, perhaps because of that very pedigree, I consider it to be the very worst cocktail of all time. Mint, sugar and bourbon no matter how you mix it, muddle it, or blend it, is truly a terrible combination. A telling sign is that even during Derby week I only rarely make even a single julep. One year the Derby also coincided with a major local NASCAR event. We had Southern accents all over our bar, but nary a julep was made. In fact the only people I have ever made juleps for were definitely not from the South.
- The Green Lizard is made 50:50 with green chartreuse and 151 proof rum. Oddly enough the overproof rum is the better part of the two ingredients, and that is not saying a lot. Chartreuse was invented by the Carthusian monks in 16th century France. The super secret recipe is said to contain 130 different herbs and spices. The green version weighs in at 110 proof (55 percent alcohol) and has a spicy, vaguely minty taste, which barely pokes its head through the blinding alcohol. Chartreuse is often referred to as an “acquired taste” by pseudo sophisticates. Something that I have always questioned. Why should you have to learn to like something? If it is really good shouldn’t it appeal to you right away?
- The Picon Punch is one of the bitterest concoctions that I have ever tried. Brandy, grenadine and Amer Picon, maybe with soda and occasionally with lemon, this cocktail is so bitter it just might peel the enamel off your teeth. The original is made with Amer Picon, which not surprisingly combines the word for bitter, “amer” and the liqueur’s inventor’s last name. Frenchman Gaëtan Picon invented the stuff in 1837 by combining bitter orange, gentian and cinchona bark. Bitter, bitterer and bitterest. True Amer Picon is hard to find in the U.S. but Torani (of the syrups) makes a version called Torani Amer which supposedly replicates the original. Is that good or bad? You be the judge. Often referred to as the “national beverage” of the Basque people, which might explain why they don’t have their own independent nation.
- Absinthe, sugar and water. From the Greek “apintbion” which means “undrinkable” absinthe is an odd combination of high proof (usually well over 100), extreme bitterness and a strange vegetal quality. Add in an odd tongue coating sensation and you begin to realize that it might not have been the supposed madness this beverage caused that got it banned in the early 1900’s. Perhaps it was the taste. Now produced madness free, absinthe reportedly (unfortunately) still tastes the same.
One final thought. Both the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes, the second and third legs of the Triple Crown, also have their own signature cocktails. Which means that it is just a matter of time before nobody (save two tilting twins) orders them either.
Jeff Burkhart is an author, a regular contributor to National Geographic Assignment and an award winning bartender at a local restaurant. Follow him on YouTube and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.