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There’s a problem with Mint Juleps. There’s actually a bunch of problems with Mint Juleps, if we’re being honest. They’re duplicitous, to start—they flirt with you like they’re some care-free summer fling, when really they’re very large and serious cups of whiskey, and if you’re not careful they’ll smother you before you know it (it’s not a Mojito with bourbon, it’s an Old Fashioned with mint). Additionally they request some specialized equipment in crushed ice and a pewter mug, the latter being nice if you have one and the former being strictly necessary, but beyond either of those is the fact that unless you make them perfectly, balancing the strength and sweetness on a knife’s edge, Mint Juleps can be uninspiring.
Bartenders have been wrestling with this problem for a long time. The great Dale DeGroff, for example, talks about how he invented the Whiskey Smash “because, frankly, I was a little bored by Mint Juleps, which have a tendency to be too sweet and too uncomplicated,” so he introduced lemon juice for tension. While this works, it leaps to an entirely different cocktail family tree (now it is more Mojito than Old Fashioned). But a different way to introduce some much welcome complexity, one that retains the soul of the drink, is to swap out some of the ingredients. The problem is not enough complexity? Well then, why not introduce ingredients with more complexity?
Meet the Trifecta. The base of bourbon is replaced with a 50/50 split of blended scotch and calvados, the rustic apple brandy from the north of France—an unusual combination, but one that sings here, the Calvados’ rustic fruity charm given heft and a touch of honeyed cereal sweetness from the malt. It also takes a page from the Georgia Julep and uses a peach liqueur instead of sugar, which deepens the fruit character and sails out with the mint on the finish. The peach, combined with the apple, makes the cocktail perfect for bridging that strange time between summer and fall, when the days are still bright and warm but the supermarkets have already rolled out their Halloween displays.
With its mixture of brandy and whiskey and its extra dose of fruit, this cocktail is like what would happen if the Mint Julep and the American Trilogy had a European lovechild, and is a delicious new take on a drink as old as time. It helps solve some of the Julep’s problems, or one of them at least—it introduces a little complexity and makes the balance less precarious. Yes, it’s still strong, and yes, you’ll still need crushed ice, but at least with this Trifecta, one out of three is still a win.
Add mint and peach liqueur to the bottom of a pewter mug (if you’ve got one—a rocks glass is fine if you don’t) and muddle the mint until you can smell it. Add the scotch and calvados and some crushed ice, and stir about 10 to 15 seconds, until a small frost begins to show on the outside of the mug. Top with more crushed ice and garnish with a couple mint sprigs, slapped to release their aromas.
NOTES ON INGREDIENTS
Calvados: Calvados, like all brandy, is a tension between fruit and oak. The younger it is, the fruitier and brighter. The longer it’s aged, the more oak will be expressed and the dimmer the fruit will be. Different cocktails benefit from different things, but my favorite here leans older with a VSOP like Boulard, which retains a bright apple character alongside its round spicy finish.
Scotch: Go blended. Light is better, and no smoke is better still. There’s lots of good ways to go here: Compass Box Artist Blend, Famous Grouse, and Scottish Glory will all work excellently. Chivas and Dewars also would be good. Hell, an Irish whiskey is good. What you want here is a light, grainy, slightly honeyed presence without too much weight.
Creme de Peche: My go-to favorite is the G.E. Massanez Crème de Pêche. Mathilde Pêche and the Giffard Crème de Pêche are also great and worth using. What can I say, the French know their way around a peach liqueur. Oh, and if all you have is a crusty bottle of peach schnapps from the Surfer on Acid days, make something else.