Tailgating… Southern style
In my 20s I lived in America. Richmond, Virginia, in fact.
Every year, my family would gather with friends for a great Virginia tradition, The Strawberry Hill Races. This was a traditional American steeplechase, but I knew nothing about horses.
What I did know was that this was a great party. Every year, we’d roll up in our American station wagon, packed to the gills with English treats such as Coronation chicken, fresh strawberries and cream and a big silver punch bowl full of Pimm’s.
Three measures of gin (and no Bourbon)
We would lay out all our treasures on a big folding table and, understandably, we quickly became the centre of a big tailgating party. But everyone else was drinking Mint Juleps, made with Bourbon, sugar and mint.
As the years passed, I became less and less enamoured with the taste of Bourbon and more and more enamoured with the taste of gin. So, imagine my delight when I discovered a recipe for a Cherry Julep made with not one but three measures of gin (and not a drop of Bourbon to be seen!)
It almost sounds like my perfect drink, so this week, I thought I’d give it a go. And I’m delighted to report that it is truly lovely.
A Julep – but not as we know it!
Forget everything you imagine a mint julep to be. This is different for sure. Fruity, instead of minty. Sweet cherries, sugar and gin. Plus an extra measure of Sloe Gin for depth and natural flavouring. All served up ice cold in a highball glass, this promised to be a real treat. And it didn’t disappoint. Fruity, rich, cooling, this drink ticks all the boxes for a delicious spring cocktail. Plus, almost all the ingredients are likely to be somewhere at the back of your bar (or easy to find in your local grocery store).
So, what exactly is a Julep?
Traditionally, a Julep is an American cocktail. It’s generally made from Kentucky Bourbon and it’s often drunk at major social events in the southern states of the USA. From the Kentucky Derby to the Master’s in Augusta, Mint Juleps can be found in the hands of Southern gentlemen and Southern belles from Richmond, Virginia to Lexington, Kentucky. But it’s also a cocktail staple in bars across the globe. Normally served in silver or pewter cups, these drinks should be held by the bottom and top edges only to guarantee a chilled drink every time. However, these days you are just as likely to be served yours in a highball glass.
The Spanish connection
Interestingly, this classic American drink has a Spanish connection. A Julep is generally defined as a sweet cocktail. But the word itself is derived from the Spanish word “julepe”, taken form Spanish Arabic and derived in turn from the Persian word Golab, which means rosewater. Who knew?
Introducing the Cherry Julep
Juelps continued to be popular throughout the 19th and early 20th century and, as I mentioned, they are generally associated with Bourbon. But these days, as gin takes centre stage and cocktails are increasingly “de rigeur”, my eyes lit up at the discovery of the Cherry Julep. This little beauty is a perfect combination of gin, sloe gin, cherry brandy, grenadine and sugar syrup. No need for a silver chalice here – just a glass that doesn’t leak!
The finishing line…
I mixed one of these up the other day and I think this works particularly well with an Old Tom gin such as Haymans. That slightly sweeter edge seems to marry well with the soft, fruity ingredients of the drink. Honestly, this drink was a revelation. I may not be able to swig a Mint Julep at the Kentucky Derby this year, but there’s every chance that I’ll be sipping on one for the Grand National, while waiting for my annual betting spree to end in its customary disappointment. No stress. As long as I have a Cherry Julep in my hand, I’m already a winner. Cheers, dears.
The Cherry Julep recipe
- 3-4 ice cubes (plus crushed ice to serve)
- Juice of half a lemon
- 1 teaspoon of simple syrup
- 1 teaspoon of grenadine
- 2 measures of Old Tom gin
- 1 measure of cherry brandy
- 1 measure of sloe gin
- Lemon rind strips to garnish
- Place the ice into a cocktail shaker.
- Pour the lemon juice, simple syrup, grenadine, cherry brandy, sloe gin and gin over the ice.
- Shake until a light frost appears on the outside of the shaker.
- Strain into a highball glass filled with crushed ice.
- Garnish with strips of lemon rind.
Top tip: if you really want to dial up the cherry, add a maraschino cherry straight form the jar and drizzle a little of that gorgeous cherry juice (straight from the jar) directly into your mixture.
You won’t regret it!
Place a bet on your favourite horse and wait…
Written by Steve (with a little help from Ruddles, the gin dog!)
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