Tips on using mint in cocktails


Few cocktails conjure summer like refreshing mint juleps and mojitos. Both drinks prominently feature mint, which adds a bright note and brings the liquor-heavy cocktails into balance. Properly using mint in cocktails is both an art and science, according to Hendricks Gin ambassador Charlotte Voisey and Chicago barman Peter Vestinos, who shared their best tips for making the most of mint in cocktails.

Spearmint is the most common mint used in drinks, and it's easy to grow yourself if you're so inclined. Be forewarned, however, that in most climates it can be invasive. You should use young, tender leaves, as mint can taste woody if it's too old. Once you harvest your mint (or remove it from its packaging), Vestinos devised a method to keep it fresh for days. It involves cutting the stems at an angle and removing the lower leaves, then dunking the bundle in an ice bath for about 15 minutes. After that, place the bundle, stems down, in jar filled with very warm (115 to 125 degrees Fahrenheit) water. Once prepped, the mint can stand in the jar at room temperature for days, or in the refrigerator with the leaves covered with plastic wrap.  

You've probably noticed bartenders using a muddler when adding mint to a cocktail. However, mint can become bitter if bruised, so Voisey prefers to shake it to avoid the risk of over-muddling. She notes that it is important to shake the cocktail vigorously "to agitate the flavors and aromas properly."

A mint garnish provides more than just a touch of green to your drink; it can also add an enticing aroma. If you have ever watched a bartender slap mint in his hands before adding it to the drink, it's not just for show: this technique is a quick and easy way to express the plant's aromatic oils. "We're allowing the oils to release and make the general environment around the top of the drink great," says Voisey.

If you are planning a party and don't want to spend all of your time shaking or muddling, Vestinos recommends Jeffrey Morgenthaler's mint syrup recipe. "We were a little skeptical of the recipe, just because we thought cooking the mint might make it bitter, but it's a great technique. It comes out really beautiful and vibrant," he says.

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