Since my first visit to the Hawthorne in Boston, finding new Julep recipes has become one of my favorite hobbies. The ultra-exclusive atmosphere and astutely ambitious cocktails at New York’s Angel’s Share didn’t make it seem like it was going to be the place to find one, at first.
Like the Old Fashioned, the Julep is an elemental technique. The classic cocktail was only minimally modified to suit the dog days of summer. Instead of aromatic bitters, muddle a cooling, aromatic herb with your simple syrup and then add your whisky and a hefty pile of ice. It’s a drink that preaches the gospel of the minimalist; one of the few where the whisky can really shine through, despite being bound to other ingredients.
Where The Hawthorne‘s Katie Emmerson switched out the classic Bourbon for a heady Islay malt, Angel’s Share‘s director, Shingo Gokan, in true form, opted to change everything. Instead of Bourbon, he uses a Japanese whisky, Hakushu 12 yr. Where there was mint, now there is shiso. Lastly, instead of commercial white sugar, Shingo has sourced the elusive Japanese wasanbon toh for its subtle earthiness and vibrant fruit.
Like the Lagavulin Julep, the Hakushu has some peat to add to the mix, but is far more balanced. It adds more of a savory, richness at the base and less of the blast of bog water that the juggernaut Lagavulin rolls through on.
Japanese whisky is also milder than Bourbon, making mint’s subtle, more complex cousin, Shiso, a perfect match. It’s floral and green enough to add the aromatic layer, and still cooling enough to enjoy on a hot summer day. The citrus-y side of the shiso also adds a bit of sweetness to the liquor, like a deliciously perverse whisky gimlet, though maybe not quite that sweet until you add the wasanbon.
Wasanbon sugar rounds out the mix with a subtle molasses flavor and light fruity notes not found in commercial sugars. It is manufactured in Japan from a rare sugar cane plant that is much thinner than the cane we think of in the US. It’s all made by hand so the care and skill that goes into making it, makes it a rare treat, even for those living closer to the source. Typically, wasanbon is pressed into molds and shaped as candies, or used in wagashi, the Japanese equivalent of petit fours. People use it in coffee or cakes, too, but try not to cover the flavor up with too many other ingredients.
Gokan came up with the idea of making a Japanese-style Julep while visiting the Hakushu distillery in Japan. He was also kind enough to share his recipe with us, here. The one hold up to making this at home, however, will be finding wasanbon sugar, as it is extremely rare. Despite the language barrier, I managed to find a big bag of it on Rakuten but immediately after buying it they ran out of stock. If you’re lucky you can buy a smaller bag, but if that stock runs out next, then you may have to find another way to source it. Good luck! It’s amazing stuff.
Shingo Gokan’s Shiso Julep
- First make a simple syrup with two bar spoons worth of wasanbon sugar and 60mL of mineral water.
- In a Julep Cup, add a small amount of shiso leaf and the syrup. Muddle lightly.
- Add 60mL Hakushu 12yr and fill cup with crushed ice. Carefully stir until chilled and the outside of the cup is frosty.
- Garnish with aromatic shiso leaf and serve.
Thank you to Angel’s Share for the recipe. If you haven’t been yet, you should get there soon and check it out! The cocktails are so delicious that the first time we went, I had a mid-life crisis as we were leaving. This isn’t just a must-try cocktail, this is a must-see speakeasy.