From the julep to the smash to the Mojito, mint has been a key player in the history of mixed drinks. In the American South, in particular, the warm-weather staple has been used since at least the 19th century to brighten spirits, most often when piled over a mountain of crushed ice (a once-popular breakfast bracer).
But it’s the herb’s tremendous versatility that has made it an enduring bartender favorite: “It’s like Aperol, St-Germain and grapefruit twists,” explains Clover Club’s Tom Macy. “It seems to make everything better.” At the bar, mint features in a number of drinks—among them, the Coconut Julep, which sees it blended with coconut-infused corn whiskey—but it’s in the Southside Fizz, a popular off-menu gin drink, that it’s at its most refreshing. Muddled with cucumbers, mint offers just enough bite to cut through the inherent sweetness in this simple twist on the Collins.
In the Scarlet Pimpernel, yet another riff on the classic highball, Sylvain’s Gillian White relies on mint’s aromatics, shaking the herb directly into the cocktail and using it as a garnish. “I know some people think mint can be a useless garnish or ‘frilly,’ but I think it really helps transform a drink,” she explains. With its base of London dry gin, génépy, grapefruit liqueur and touch of celery shrub, this intentionally low-ABV cooler was designed for New Orleans summers.
The same refreshing qualities that make mint a befitting companion for citrus serve to balance the spicy and savory elements in Kevin King’s Drinkin’ with Stiggins, a blend of pineapple rum, Swedish punsch and green Chartreuse that’s topped with star anise gomme and bitters. “The mint helps to bring out the herbaceous notes of green Chartreuse and complements the anise and licorice notes as well,” explains King, bar manager at South Carolina’s newly opened, McCrady’s Tavern.
And while he cautions against using bruised mint, which can yield unpleasant, grassy flavors, King says that, more often than not, it’s something of a “wonder herb” that’s universally enjoyed. “You’d have to be really trying to mess up a cocktail using mint,” he says. Less difficult? Enjoying one.