As much as we’re happy for summer to be on its way to a close — finally and thank God — the flavors of summer are something we seek year-round. We purchase mealy, mushy imposters that pretend to be tomatoes in December, sit on patios when it’s too damn cold, and perhaps most important, drink a lot of seasonally inappropriate cocktails.
Don’t you know it’s fall already? You should be tucking into Manhattans and old fashioneds, not still sipping on fruity punches and daiquiris. But if you insist on resisting September’s pumpkin-spice flavored transition into fall, Ida Claire is the place to be. Thanks to the newly opened restaurant’s program of mint juleps, you can drag summer out as long as this Texas heat plans to stick around, perhaps even beyond.
It’s a real wonder that juleps aren’t a more popular option on cocktail menus around the city, considering Dallas’ proclivity toward good whiskey and our love of feeling fancy. That pewter cup bestows a little bit of class on the drinker who has just had the good sense to order a julep, and the Tobacco Peach is no exception.
There are six juleps on the menu here, ranging from traditional to totally fussy. The best of these juleps, the Tobacco Peach, is a spicy and addictive cocktail that also manages to be entirely refreshing. At first glance, you notice the soft, crushed ice that pillows out from the top of the julep cup and know that you’ve made an excellent choice. On first sip, though, you may be surprised at how great this cocktail really is — even if the julep is the humblest and simplest of drinks.
From there, the drink is full of surprises. The tobacco syrup lends a distinctive flavor, one that will be highly familiar if you’ve ever relished the smell of a pack of freshly opened Marlboros. That familiar nicotine sting is present in this cocktail, and when paired with the booze has a sort of numbing effect. If you sip the julep too quickly, an impulse that is difficult to resist, it may be a little overwhelming. Slow down, sip slowly, and you’ll really enjoy the effect. It’s not enough for a legitimate nicotine buzz, but if you’ve put down the cigarettes for good, this cocktail will make for a nice dose of nostalgia.
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If you drink too many, that numbing effect will quickly move from your mouth to your brain — the pour of Tennessee whiskey here is stout. This also means that if you’re a stickler you’re going to want to ask for something top-shelf, like a good bourbon. Substituting an average whiskey for a complex bourbon, perhaps Old Forester or Knob Creek, is really the only way the Tobacco Peach could get any better, but that would raise the price, which is a reasonable (in this new world of expensive cocktails) $9.
But if you really want an excellent julep, one that could legitimately compete with those mixed in Kentucky in anticipation of those ponies jumping out of the chute, spend a couple of bucks on something better. For whatever reason, bartenders occasionally look at you like you’re a lunatic when you request a better spirit in a cocktail. Yes, I know that it’s going to cost more. I also know that I’m going to end up with a better drink, and that’s worth an extra $2.
Also interesting is the Tobacco Peach’s garnish, a semi-dehydrated peach that resembles fruit leather. It lends a fresh burst of fruity aroma and makes for the perfect snack as you wait for the appetizers to come. You’ll probably wish that your slice was larger, but it’s just enough to complement the peach bitters used in this julep. Otherwise, it would be a syrupy imitation of a cocktail that is supposed to be strong (yet genteel) enough to ease a bad day at the track.
The Derby is held in the spring, but the mint julep has an appeal that lasts all year long, and the Tobacco Peach somehow manages to improve on a beloved recipe that has been around forever by using inventive ingredients with a cautious hand. You should probably consider being equally cautious — two or three juleps is enough to force you to leave your car in Addison for the night (shudder) and Uber home.