Nothing says summer drinking to me quite like the smell of mint. That cool, grassy, piercingly sweet scent is inextricably linked with sipping cocktails in the open air: on a picnic, watching sport or a concert, in the garden on a warm evening.
Mint’s aroma is potent, but the leaves are delicate and bruise easily; overzealous muddling can quickly turn them to a bitter brown mush. When making a Mojito, rather than crushing the leaves in the base of the shaker, give them a sharp clap between your palms to release the scented oils and stir through the drink. This method will preserve the aroma of the herb much better and the drink will look nicer too. If you crave more menthol, garnish with a big fat mint sprig.
A Mojito is good, but even better for alfresco drinking is a Mint Julep – a cocktail that I’m sure many Americans will be celebrating with this weekend. Perfected on the sun-baked racetracks and farmsteads of Kentucky, this blend of whiskey, sugar, crushed ice and mint goes down like nectar on a hot day. Shake 60ml Michter’s Bourbon, 10 mint leaves and 15ml sugar syrup hard with ice and strain into a highball glass or julep tin filled with crushed ice. Churn with a spoon, fill to the brim with crushed ice and garnish with mint and a straw. Then go and sip in deep shade.
Anise and mint is a wonderfully glacial pairing. A cocktail that does this very well is the French Pearl, a breezy marriage of pastis and mint created by Audrey Saunders of the late, great Pegu Club in New York. My spin on the recipe is this. Shake 40ml Plymouth Gin, 10ml Pernod Pastis, 10ml sugar syrup, 25ml lime juice, four mint leaves and 25ml chilled water with ice and strain into a frozen coupe. Garnish with a mint leaf.
But mint doesn’t have to come with alcohol, of course. Botanical water company No.1 Botanicals does a very nice sparkling mineral water infused with natural extracts of spearmint. Other summery flavours in the range include fennel, olive leaf and lemon verbena (£24.50 for a mixed case).
Even if you don’t subscribe to CBD – and I must say the jury’s still out for me – the mint hit you get from Intune’s CBD-laced Grapefruit & Mint drink is also good. Drink it neat or try it as a mixer (£30 for 12).
And don’t forget the refreshing powers of tea in the heat. My favourite variety of mint for fresh mint tea is black mint, which has a menthol blast like an After Eight – my window boxes are full of it. For dried mint teas that are a cut above, visit Rare Tea Company, which does two excellent mint teas with real clarity of flavour: a sprightly English peppermint and a sweeter, more delicate tea made with spearmint from Malawi. Its Soothe-Me tea – a blend of spearmint, chamomile flowers and holy basil – is also good hot or as a refreshing cold infusion. A garden in a glass.