When you think about what goes into making a mint julep, you probably envision something like what Karla Plotts, the mixologist at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, does behind the bar.
“I start off with eight nice-sized mint leaves,” Plotts said while gently plucking mint leaves from the stem. “Nice and bright-green, crisp. Then I add my sweetener.”
She then proceeds to muddle the mint.
“The goal here is just to get the oils of the mint to work with the syrup,” Plotts said, before hand-grinding ice into pebble-sized chunks. Then, she grabbed the bourbon.
“From here, I’m going to leave the ice to sit for a second,” she said. “Pour an ounce and a half to two ounces, again it’s a matter of your preference.”
The julep is then garnished with more mint and served.
But industry numbers show that RTD — or ready-to-drink — cocktails are on the rise. Over the last year, sales of canned cocktails have risen by five percent, with half the total sales coming from supermarkets.
There are a few reasons for this: convenience, a growing interest in cocktail culture and a precedent set by the craft beer market.
But that means the preparation for these drinks looks a lot less like the scene at Plotts’ bar, and more like what’s happening at Flavorman, a beverage development company in Louisville company.
Inside The Flavorman Labs
Aaron Parker is the company’s chief operating officer; he points to a desk surrounded by tiny vials of liquid.
“So you’re going to get hit really hard by some smells in here, but this is Tom’s flavor lab,” he said, referring to the workspace of flavorist Tom Gibson.
Parker continued: “[There are] thousands of different aroma chemicals. Different flavors. Different fruit and vegetable components; he’s looking at all these things chemically and adding them into a flavor unit that may taste like a strawberry.”
Flavorman has helped develop brands like Jones Soda, Chiquita, and Crispin Cider — and they’re also helping companies step into the ready-to-drink cocktail space.
There are some confidentiality agreements that prevent Parker from disclosing with whom they are creating products.
But these products exist, they’re out on the market today,” he said.
According to Parker, the process of making these shelf-stable and on a commercial scale is more complicated than just tossing the ingredients in a can and hoping for the best.
You can hear more about the how they get a mint julep into a can in the audioplayer above.