Fresh mint is one of the more versatile and important garnishes in the cocktail world, and especially in the Tiki cocktail world. Mint is a feast to the eye, the tongue, and especially the nose. Mint is easy to store and to employ. But it is also fragile and perishable. Mint in less than perfect condition is at the least disappointing, and at worst… drink-ruining. I’ve been having a lot of fun with mint this Tiki Month, and I thought a short primer on best practices in handling mint might make a useful post.
The first and most important thing with mint (or any herb you use for the kitchen or bar, for that matter) is to make sure that you get it as fresh as possible to begin with. In warmer times, mint is fairly easy to grow for yourself. Horticulture is beyond this post’s scope, but I will simply note that mint is invasive as hell. Grow your mint in containers or in isolated beds, and don’t let it go to seed. I grow mine in a narrow bed between our deck and a stone pathway. Even with this precaution, I fight an annual battle to keep it contained. Perhaps I should build a Wall….
At this time of year, most of us have to buy our mint. Many grocery stores carry mint, and a little comparison shopping will tell you who carries the good stuff, in good condition. In the amounts a home bartender needs, the best mint I’ve found tends to be sold in bunches, with no packaging.
Cut mint likes a little air flow in a cool, humid environment. Both you and the store you get your mint from should avoid the following:
- Hot or dry conditions. Cut mint wilts and dries out easily. Dry conditions and especially direct sunlight will ruin it in no time.
- Conversely, don’t set your mint stems in water, like flowers in a vase. It won’t ruin your mint like sunlight, but it will rot it at a greatly accelerated rate.
- The wrong part of the refrigerator. Mint freezes easily. Even in the refrigerator, if you let the bag get close to the source of chill, it will probably freeze in short order. Frost-kissed mint will be nastily rotten when it thaws.
The simplest way to store mint so it lasts the longest in a home refrigerator or wine fridge is to store it in the plastic bag you put it in at the grocery store, loosely closed, with a single, damp paper towel to keep the humidity up. And keep it right at the front, so it just stays barely chilled.
I will finish with a mint storage idea I picked up just this year, from a visit to Pontiac Barbecue in Cincinnati. Pontiac, in addition to some good pig, has a pretty good cocktail program that is a weird fusion of bourbon bar and Tiki. One of the cocktails I had sported a gorgeous bouquet of mint as a garnish, and I was blown away by how they store their mint both overnight and during service.
That is a straw dispenser like you would have seen in an old timey soda fountain, or perhaps a Johnny Rockets. Put your mint in so the stems rest in the bottom of the metal holder, and lay your damp paper towel in the bottom of the glass, where it won’t contact the mint at all. You can leave this jar out on your bar all evening. Just lift the top and pluck a stem or three that peek out, then drop the lid again. The mint stays cool and humid, doesn’t rot, and is protected from being battered. when you are done, just pop the whole container into the fridge until the next time. This is a neat, durable, and cool-looking way to store mint with a lot of practicality. Give it a try!