Spring Cocktail: Mint Julep
From: Field Guide to Cocktails, by Rob Chirico
Total: Under 5 mins
Active: Under 5 mins
Makes: 1 drink
The world-renowned Mint Julep is a mixture of mint, sugar, and bourbon, but some historians argue
that the first Juleps may have been made with common brandy. If Freud is more talked about than
read, the Mint Julep is more read about than drunk. One survey revealed that while 70 percent of
Americans not from the South had never tasted a Mint Julep, 73 percent of Southerners had never had
one either. Champions of the Julep protest that the drink stirred up by the vat-full on Kentucky
Derby Day is a pale horse to the spirited classic. Add to this that Bourbon County was originally
owned by Virginia, also claiming the drink’s invention, and you have a greater muddle than the mint
in the bottom of the glass. I should mention that muddling mint is considered as abhorrent by some
as it is extolled by others and that Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Mississippi all also say they were
home to the first Mint Julep.
Historically, the root of the Julep is not Southern or American, but Arabic— julab means
“rosewater” —and doctors called any beverage that disguised the taste of medicine a “julep.” Prior
to the Civil War, brandy or whiskey was common in a julep, but the poverty of the South after the
war gave rise to the use of less expensive bourbon. As to the proper proportions, method of mixing,
and who originated the cocktail, William Grimes in Straight Up or On the Rocks states: “If
the mark of a great cocktail is the number of arguments it can provoke and the number of
unbreakable rules it generates, the Mint Julep may be America’s preeminent classic, edging out the
Martini in a photo finish.”
To muddle or not to muddle, that is the question that could result in fisticuffs. Frances Parkinson
Keyes recalled the last words of a Virginia gentleman: “Never insult a woman, never bring a horse
into the house, and never crush the mint in a Julep.” Whether or not you decide to crush your mint,
make certain that it is fresh. And do leave the horse outdoors.
This recipe was featured as part of our Kentucky Derby Day menu.
3 sprigs fresh mint
1 teaspoon water
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
2 ounces bourbon
1. Muddle 2 mint sprigs, the water, and the sugar in a highball or collins glass or a silver julep
2. Fill the glass with crushed ice, and pour in the bourbon.
3. Garnish with the remaining mint sprig.