When it comes to the cocktail garnish, the undisputed king of the garnish is the mint sprig. Its vibrant, full, deep green, jagged leaves rise tall from the ice to greet the nose of the imbiber to pull them into the cocktail below.
When presenting a fresh-ingredient, craft-cocktail bar, your guests should know as they approach your bar, that you are doing something fresh, that you are doing something different, that your bar is healthy, and that you are running a great cocktail program. One of these “billboards” for your guest is the fresh garnish atop the bar. Mint can be spotted, and sniffed out, from a good distance, so it is important to maintain this fresh bartop with a fresh head of mint.
Even if you may not have a cocktail on the menu which requires fresh mint, or you may not even be called on to make a cocktail with fresh mint that evening, having that head of mint on the bartop is an inexpensive, yet powerful, advertisement for your bar and your skills.
Yet, maintaining a fresh bunch of mint, so that the leaves are firm, the color is vibrant, and the oils are intact over a long period on a bartop can be a challenge.
Here is a method for maintaining mint on the bartop, fresh bight and vibrant – for 8 to 10 hours….
Cambro, 8-quart filled half full of ice water
Cambro 2-quart (not shown)
China Cap or Chinois (not shown)
Julep Cup – One for each bunch of mint on the bar top (not shown)
Fill the 8-quart Cambro half full of cold water and ice (pellet ice preferred).
Step 2 - Gather the Mint
After removing mint from the bag or package it came in, select individual stocks of mint, discarding any that may appear old, wilted or oddly shaped. Mint, of course, doesn’t always grow perfectly the way we wish them to look for a garnish.
Clean the stocks by plucking the leaves off of the stem, below the head to keep the full head, or crown, intact. Place the plucked leaves in the smaller, empty, 2-quart Cambro
Assemble the cleaned stems in one hand or in a pile on your work surface. Keep adding stems until you have the desired “bunch” size that will be your final bar-top display size. This will usually be about 12 to 15 stems.
Step 3 - Cut the Stalks
Place the bunch of mint on a cutting board, holding by the head. Determine final stem length needed for your desired garnish, usually about 3.5” to 4”. Cut the stocks at an angle, much like you would flowers.
Step 4 - Shock the Stems
Plunge the mint, head down in the 8-quart cambro full of ice water. Repeat the above step until you have enough bunches for the bar top with additional back up bunches, if desired. Allow the mint to remain in its ice bath for 15 to 20 minutes.
This ice bath will brighten and firm up the mint’s leaves as well as preserve the precious oils within the leaves.
Step 5– Mint leaves
Cover the mint leaves in the 2-qt Cambro with ice water.
Also allow this to also sit for 15 to 20 minutes
Fill the Julep cup two-thirds full of warm to hot water, about 115 to 125 degrees Fahrenheit (46 to 52 degrees Celsius). Careful not to use scalding hot water as it will burn the mint, essentially you should be able to stick your finger in the water and have it be uncomfortably hot but not to the point where it's painful. Too hot for you, way too hot for the mint.
Place mint stem down in the hot water, and arrange for attractiveness. It may be necessary to cut the stalks down a bit more.
Mint will last on the bar top for at least 8 hours.
Note: Although the mint will last a long time, it is beneficial to refill the container with warm water at some point during the evening.
Step 7 – Back-up Mint
If you're a busy bar, you'll need more mint than just what is on the bar top, so you'll need some back ups. Prep more bunches than needed and place them stalk down in a quart deli container with warm to hot water. Place in a reach-in refrigerator until ready to use. No need to cover the mint, but keep it away from the refrigerator’s fan as this will blacken the mint, so the bottom levels are best. When ready to use, plunge into hot water as in Step 7.
Step 8 – Mint Leaves
Pour the contents of the 2 quart cambro with the plucked leaves, through a china cap. Then shake off excess ice.
Place a paper towel at the bottom of a deli container and then place leaves in deli.
For service, place the deli in a reach-in or in the ice of the ice well.
End of Night
As the mint has been on the bar-top, exposed to the elements in the air of a bar, I recommend throwing the mint out at the end of the night or composting it.
However, if you desire to keep it, place the mint stems down in cold water in a deli container and place in a refrigerator. The next day, re-cut the stems and repeat the above steps.