Grove Grill’s Terry Allen offers tips
on the perfect Mint Julep.
Few drinks invoke the fresh taste of Spring quite like the Mint Julep. This Southern staple packs a smooth and invigorating blend perfect for coasting into the steamy summertime months. And with the Kentucky Derby currently in full swing, Mint Julep consumption has reached peak levels around the MidSouth. The Mint Julep is an inviting, aromatic drink, perfect for afternoons on the patio and relaxing by the pool. Originally the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby horse races at the historic Churchill Downs racetrack, this clever concoction has since become the favorite summertime blend of many. When prepared by the hands of a crafty mixologist, this old favorite is one of the definitive cocktails of the South.
And Terry Allen knows his cocktails. As bar manager of East Memphis’ upscale Grove Grill, he’s spent the past 16 years applying his accumulated knowledge to serve thirsty patrons. One of Memphis’ chief bartenders and mixologists, Terry’s knowledge and skill behind the bar puts most to shame. With a world-weary smile and a willingness to converse with young and old alike, it’s no wonder he’s been recognized as one of the city’s top bartenders by GoMemphis. While the Mint Julep is traditionally a seasonal beverage that comes and goes, Terry’s knack for finding the perfect combination of ingredients makes it seem like a daily affair. “There aren’t a whole lot of different recipes for it — you can manipulate it all you want but the drink remains pretty standard,” he says.
The Mint Julep is a relatively simple concoction with just four main ingredients: ice; bourbon; simple syrup; and of course, mint leaves. However, the manner of preparation can mean the difference between a floral flourish and a leafy mess.
Simple syrups are added to give a hint of sweetness. Some may substitute this with mint syrup for extra flavor or pure cane sugar for an authentic, if slightly grainy, taste. Although tradition dictates that enterprising mixologists use a Kentucky bourbon for this concoction, any kind will suffice. In fact, when the cocktail surfaced around the late 20th century, many would often substitute cheap brandy for fine bourbon during tough times. “This drink really started taking off in the 1950s,” says Terry. “But it reaches as far back as the late 1800s.”
The mint leaves around the rim to accent are more than just a pretty dressing — they work in conjunction with the other ingredients to have a powerful effect on the presentation and taste, as well as the experience. “This is an important part that many people don’t get,” Terry says. “Not only are you tasting the drink, but you’re inhaling the mint as you do. When you take a sip of it, all you smell is mint — and that’s the bottom line of the drink.”
The perfect Mint Julep offers just a touch of sweetness and a thick, flowery aroma that is comparable to leaning over a lush field of mint leaves and taking a deep breath: crisp, cool and refreshing. From humble beginnings as one of the United States’ first regional favorites, this cocktail has since become a symbol of class and affluence in the South — a classy drink for classy people.
Bar Manager Terry Allen has seen plenty in his 16 years at East Memphis’ Grove Grille. He learned the ropes working for Overton Square’s Public Eye restaurant, a well-known Midtown establishment that closed its doors in 2000. A master muddler, Allen specializes in aromatic cocktails that include fresh herbs.
Classic Mint Julep
1 cup shaved ice
10 Mint leaves
¾ oz Simple Syrup
2 oz Maker’s Mark or other bourbon
• Chill a tumbler or 9 oz mug.
• Shave ice to pebble size. Fresh, clear ice works best.
• Line bottom of glass with mint leaves.
• Add simple syrup.
• Muddle ingredients in glass—make sure to crush
the leaves for extra flavor.
• Mix ingredients together—don’t stir!
• Top with ice and pack it in—fill to rim.
• Pour bourbon over ice.
• Garnish with mint leaves—2-3 sprigs should do.