Introducing: A Walk on the Wild (South)side

Wild peppermint puts a badass twist on the gentle classic

My son, an environmental scientist, was doing whatever it is environmental scientists do somewhere in the wilds of mid-state Virginia. He came across a cluster of wild peppermint. This he would know as mentha canadensis.

Because he is a loving son, he brought back a handful for his dad to do something drinky with.

Wild peppermint2
Wild peppermint, aka Mentha canadensis: The badass of the mint family.

So what would I do?

I looked, I turned it around in my hand, admired its handsome scuzz. I washed it. I gave a leaf a good smack and sniffed it. Less mint, more “weed.” I bit an edge. Peppery [duh], firm. Again, weedy.

So what would I do with such a unruly bit of foliage?

Working deviously against type, I decided to desecrate one of the most sophisticated mint drinks I know: The Southside.

Southside Backstory

Like most adult beverages, the Southside has multiple origin stories. The South Side of Chicago in the 1920s? The Southside Sportsmen’s Club in Long Island in the 1890s? Jack & Charlie’s [aka “21”] in New York City?

Let’s set that history mystery aside as a retirement project. I’ve got a drink to make.

To find a recipe for proper profanation, I turned to one of the great living sources of classic recipes: Dale DeGroff. In his [indeed essential] The Essential Cocktail he presents a typically elegant version.

Below is my significant tweak.

Walk on the Wild (South)side cocktail recipe

  • 1.5 oz gin
    • Death’s Door
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • .75 oz simple syrup
    • This is basically a sour, commonly served with juice to syrup 1:1. The 1:.75 is my go-to sour balance. 
  •  10 [!] wild peppermint leaves
  • Soda
    • For a long variant

Shake everything but the mint.

Then open the shaker and pop in the 9 mint leaves. Close the shaker and slosh it back and forth, like a lousy bartender who’s distracted and fatigued. You want to extract the mint oil without creating debris. [I got this slosh technique from Wikipedia, of all places.]

Double strain into a coupe.

Or use a Collins glass with crushed ice [the DeGroff method] and top with soda. This builds the drink along its basic mojito-with-gin structure.

Give the wild peppermint leave a really big hard slap. Pop it in the drink.

Walk on the Wild (South)side cocktail tasting notes

Dale DeGroff’s classically elegant Southside [backdrop] vs. the Walk on the Wild (South)side cocktail, which uses wild peppermint. His is prettier and more polite. Mine is skankier and a little crazy.
Well, “elegant” isn’t the word.

  • This is, to be plain, a very different drink from the Southside — snappy and vivid.
  • The pepper produces a brow-raising bite.
  • The wild mint garnish gives it an admirably unkempt look.
  • The gin I used, Death’s Door, is one of the quieter gins in the American style. I think a London Dry would work just as well. You want the mint’s wildness to come through, not compete with other botanicals and various subtle this-es-and-that’s.

Approached with the right expectations, the Walk on the Wild (South)side is a good drink. I’d make it again. I’d serve it. To a certain kind of guest.

If anyone asks, the origin story for this drink is starts with an environmental scientist in mid-state Virginia. I can verify this.

Author: Craig Stoltz

Suburban boulevardier. Former Washington Post journalist, entrepreneur, Top 25 blogger. Foodie. Cocktail geek. Proudly work in digital communications for you, The American People.

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