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Drink of the Week: Pontarlier Julep

Between the heat and the thunderstorms, it's a wonder anyone in the Twin Cities is getting any sleep. This week, some of us awoke without electricity to a neighborhood full of snapped branches and uprooted trees while our northern neighbors in Duluth, Minnesota are dealing with massive flooding. With so much going on related to weather, we half considered creating a cocktail called Straight Line Winds. We might still, but this being the longest day of the year (and this week feeling like the hottest) we decided to look for something that sounded a bit more refreshing and not so menacing. Today, as if coming to our rescue, the postman delivered the July-August 2012 issue of Imbibe Magazine.

If you aren't a subscriber, we highly recommend it. Like every issue, this one contains some fantastic recipes and we'd like to share one of them. It's called the Pontarlier Julep. Anytime a Julep is mentioned during the sweltering heat of summer it's worth investigating. Normally, it's a simple formula comprised of spirits and sugar over crushed ice. This one, however, is unusual.

Pontarlier Julep by William Elliott, Maison Premiere, Brooklyn
.5 oz absinthe
.5 oz gin
.75 oz Aperol
.75 oz sweet vermouth
3 drops orange blossom water
3 dashes orange bitters

Stir ingredients in a small tumbler or julep cup. Overfill with crushed ice and garnish with a sprig of mint.

As you can see, the base spirit takes a supporting role. At only a half ounce, the gin doesn't play prominently in this complex refresher. If anything, it serves to stretch the real star of this cocktail—absinthe. Most classic recipes that call for absinthe feature only a dash or two, but here, we have more than enough to dominate the flavor of most drinks. One of the benefits of investing in an expensive bottle of absinthe is that it tends to last a long time. At 120+ proof you don't often use much, and in this drink, you don't need much. If you've ever enjoyed an absinthe drip—ice water over a small dose of absinthe—you know what's going to happen the instant this cocktail hits crushed ice.

A julep usually has a sweet flavor profile and to get us there we have a combination of Aperol and sweet vermouth. Both are common enough in other drink styles but you don't normally see them in a julep recipe. Yet, they provide just the right balance of bittersweet flavor to confirm that's what we are drinking. They also add some of their own personality to the cup. Aperol is bitter, sweet and fruity while the sweet vermouth is complex and herbal. Such bold flavors work well against the backdrop of gin and absinthe. Finally, the potent orange blossom water and some orange bitters bring it all together.

As soon as you start packing the ice into your glass, the absinthe begins to release intoxicating aromas. The deeply floral effect fills the room as it mingles with the orange blossom. It's best to let this cocktail sit for as long as you can stand it before taking a sip. Give it some time for all of the fruit and herbal flavors to meld as the ice dilutes. These are powerful, sometimes competitive ingredients that will mellow if you let them. Go ahead and top it off with some mint for color—not that we really need the additional scent. Then, watch as your glass frosts over with icy condensation. Take a deep breath, wipe the sweat from your brow and sip. . .

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