A version of this article appeared in the April 2018 issue with the headline “Porch Perfect.”

At Houston’s Julep, craft-cocktail maven Alba Huerta and her team feature a well-established repertoire of classic and original beverages inspired by the South.

Each quaff has a connection to the region’s rich culinary past, including the namesake julep, which as early as 1862 was called the most popular drink in the South. Huerta, who opened the Washington Avenue bar in 2014, released her first book in March, Julep: Southern Cocktails Refashioned (Lorena Jones Books).

For Huerta, the project was as much a story of the bar’s menu evolution as it was an homage to a region known for its distinctive flavors and warm hospitality.

“When you look at the progression of our menu over the past three years in one complete book, you can better understand what we’re trying to say as a bar,” says Huerta. “Each of these cocktails tells a story about where we’re from, whether that’s Houston, Texas, or the South as a whole.”

When it comes to Southern inspiration, Huerta is quick to assert that Julep is not about the Deep South alone but about the progressive American South cities such as Houston represent. “Whether you’re from Houston or New Orleans or Charleston, the American South looks a lot different today than it did a hundred years ago. It’s no longer one cultural identity but a diverse, multicultural identity,” she says.

That snapshot of multicultural identity can be found while flipping through the recipes and stories of Julep, each revealing ideas and inspirations from the region as well as from Huerta’s staff, all of whom have contributed to the diversity of recipes in the book.

Many of the recipes take would-be home bartenders a little deeper into the broader world of spirits, vermouths, amari, and homemade cordials and syrups, something Huerta felt confident about based on the relationships she’s built with Julep regulars.

“I’m always impressed at how adventurous people are at making their own drink recipes at home,” she says. “Customers are always telling me about how they’ve been infusing botanicals in spirits or making their own cordials. These days, they’re treating home cocktails like they are cooking at home; they want more than just simple and accessible recipes,” says Huerta. “It helps that a lot of the various spirits and liqueurs used in our recipes are more and more available at places like Spec’s and in specialty liquor stores.”

In Julep, you’ll find recipes and historical outtakes for dozens of drinks, including seven juleps, as well as inventive bar snacks. Some of the cocktails are more complex than others, but the spring-inspired Snake-bit Sprout—a tart and slightly sweet beverage with chamomile-infused gin, lime and pineapple juices, simple syrup, and hard cider—is something most at-home bartenders can achieve with a quick trip to the market and liquor store. We also love the Sparkling Julep and the Armagnac Sazerac. 

Snake-bit Sprout

1 ½ ounces Chamomile-Infused London Dry Gin (see below)
½ ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
½ ounce fresh pineapple juice
½ ounce simple syrup
1 ½ ounces hard cider, preferably Foggy Ridge
Dried chamomile buds, for garnish

Fill the glass with four ice cubes, or slightly more than halfway. Pour the gin, lime juice, pineapple juice, and syrup into a cocktail shaker. Fill the shaker with ice cubes. Cover and shake vigorously 20 times. Strain into the glass. Add crushed ice to reach the top of the glass. Top off with the cider. Place the straw in the glass. Garnish with a few chamomile buds.

Chamomile-Infused London Dry Gin

(Makes 1 liter)
1 liter London Dry Gin
1 ounce dried chamomile buds

Combine the gin and the chamomile buds in a 2-quart glass measuring cup or other container. (Reserve the empty gin bottle if you’d like to store the infused gin in it.) Cover and let stand for 3 hours. Line a mesh strainer set over a bowl with cheesecloth. Strain the gin through the cheesecloth. Discard the chamomile.

Transfer the infused gin to the reserved bottle or another container with a tight-fitting lid. Store in a cool place for up to 1 month. You can store it longer, but the chamomile flavor will begin to fade.

Sparkling Julep

10 mint leaves
½ ounce Turbinado Syrup (see below)
½ ounce cognac, preferably Pierre Ferrand 1840
2 ounces sparkling FRV 100 Gamay, plus ½ ounce for topping off
2 or 3 mint springs
1 small bunch Champagne or tiny grapes
Powdered sugar

Place the mint leaves and syrup in the glass and lightly press with a muddler. Leave the muddler in the glass and add the cognac and 2 ounces of sparkling Gamay, pouring them over the muddler to rinse it off. Stir with the muddler to mix. Fill the glass a little more than halfway with crushed ice and stir with a bar spoon 15 to 20 times. Add more ice to completely fill the glass. Top off with the remaining ½ ounce of sparkling Gamay. Place the straw in the glass.

To garnish, press the mint sprigs between your fingers to release their aroma and tuck them into the ice next to the straw. Place the Champagne grapes alongside the mint and dust them with the powdered sugar.

Armagnac Sazerac

¼ ounce absinthe, for rinsing the glass
1 ounce 100-proof bonded rye whiskey
1 ounce Armagnac, such as Marie Duffau Napoleon
1 bar spoon Turbinado Syrup (see below)
4 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
2 dashes Abbott’s Bitters
Garnish: 1 swath lemon zest

Rinse a coupe glass with absinthe by coating the sides and bottom thoroughly. Set aside. Pour the rye, Armagnac, syrup, Peychaud’s Bitters, and Abbott’s Bitters into a mixing glass. Fill the glass with ice cubes. Stir 20 times with a bar spoon. Strain into the chilled glass. Garnish with the lemon zest.

Turbinado Syrup

2 cups Sugar in the Raw turbinado
1 cup water

Combine the turbinado sugar and water in a saucepan and stir to combine. Place over medium heat and bring to a gentle boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat and simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved and the syrup is slightly thickened, about 3 minutes.

Remove from the heat and let cool. Transfer to a glass container with a tight-fitting lid and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.