Leftover Mint Stem Infusions
Mint Stems are a common leftover ingredient that always get thrown out.
The leaves on the other hand are essential for many classic cocktails, and for good reason. They give fresh and bright flavors to drinks that need that missing touch.
Whiskey Smashes, Southsides, Mojitos, you name it!
All these cocktails neglect the leftover stems which are still packed with flavor (the same minty flavor that you find in the leaves)!
Mint stems DO carry a slight bitterness to them and they lack some of the fresh-tasting qualities that the leaves have.
BUT, they still have enough flavor to be used for something. Some bartenders muddle the stems within a drink to release their flavor, but I find that Sous Vide infusion is the best method.
How to Infuse Them
Some bartenders already upcycle mint stems into homemade syrups but their flavor doesn’t shine with this method.
The only way to extract the flavor from the stems is to cook them (and cooked mint just doesn’t taste very good).
While you will have a minty flavor, you will lose all of that fresh taste, and that can be a setback for most cocktails.
Alcohol can instead extract the delicate flavors from the stems, but you have a choice of techniques to use.
From my experience, I’ve tried 3 different ways of infusion and have reached the conclusion that the Sous Vide method works best.
The three ways are:
- Maceration at room temperature,
- Sous Vide.
#1 Letting stems infuse at room temperature with a spirit not only will take a long time for flavor exchange to occur, but will also not extract the full flavors from the stems.
#2 Microwaving does the trick of a rapid infusion, but it cooks the stems too much, resulting in a musty bitter infusion. No bueno.
#3 (the best choice) Sous Vide gives a slow and gradual infusion, releasing the delicate flavors that are trapped inside the stems’ hard exterior. It won’t overcook it either and damage that fresh taste.
For this recipe you will need:
- A Spirit of choice (Vodka, Gin, Dry Vermouth, Bourbon, etc),
- Mint Stems,
- A Sous Vide or Thermometer.
Mint stems infuse well with just about anything.
I typically infuse mine with Vodka or Dry/White Vermouth, but Gin, Tequila, Cachaca, and aged spirits also work well.
(Note that a Sous Vide will make life a lot easier, but if you don’t have one you can use a pot of water on a stove with a thermometer attached to it).
Cut Up Stems
Before you infuse your spirit, it’s a good idea to chop up your stems beforehand. This will increase their surface area so that there is more flavor to extract.
Once your mint stems have been chopped, follow this ratio:
For every 100ml of Spirit combine 5g of chopped mint stems.
(I’m using Bourbon so that I can eventually use it in a Mint Julep rather than the actual leaves.)
Sous Vide everything at 140F or 60C for 45 minutes.
With dark spirits like Bourbon, you will hardly notice any color change from the infusion.
Clear or lighter spirits will instead have a faint yellowish color to them from post-infusion.
The lighter the color the better. A darker color from the infusion is a signal of overcooked stems (which means more unpleasant flavors).
Mint Stem infusions can work with any spirit and cocktail.
They have the advantage of giving mint flavors to drinks without the need for the actual leaves (which eventually get thrown out).
You can use the infusion for Juleps, Smashes, Mojitos, and more! Even my Watermelon Rind Martini uses it!
Below you’ll find my recipe for a Julep twist that uses Mint-Infused Bourbon.
Mint Stem Julep
Glassware: Julep Cup or Mug.
- 60ml Mint Stem Bourbon
- 5ml Green Chartreuse
- 7.5ml Lime Sherbert
- 4 drops Aromatic Scrappy’s Bitters
- Garnish with Mint Dust
Similar to a classic julep but with sweetened Lime Sherbert and Green Chartreuse rather than regular demerara syrup.
The complex botanicals from the chartreuse marry well with the mint stem and make it shine!
The lime sherbert is made using leftover unused lime wedges from the end of a night’s shift and coating them with sugar to make a syrup.
Scrappy’s Bitters is used to balance the sweetness from the Sherbert and Chartreuse as well as add more depth.
Finally, any leftover mint leaves you have which are going bad can be dehydrated and crushed into a dust.
You can sprinkle some mint dust on cocktails like these to give aromatic flavors to your drink (and to be honest, it works better than the fresh leaves themselves).