Mint Julep Divine

One of my favorite spring rituals is almost here. It involves thoroughbred horses, Southern belles with epic hats, Churchill Downs and the most refreshing drink you can make with bourbon: the mint julep.

The “Best” Mint Julep

•  12-ounce glass or silver beaker
(the beaker is only for the most hardcore traditionalist)
•  3 ounces bourbon
(According to General Buckner: “distilled by a master hand, mellowed with age, yet still vigorous and inspiring.”)
•  1 teaspoon sugar
•  Fresh mint leaves
•  Freshly cracked or shaved ice
(As Buckner suggests: “Into a canvas bag, pound twice as much ice as you think you will need. Make it fine as snow, keep it dry and do not allow it to degenerate into slush.”)

1)  Chill any glassware well in advance.
Follow Buckner’s ice technique – canvas bag optional, but you need very fine ice to bring out the best in this drink.
2)  Be careful not to handle the glass with bare hands while making the drink, as the glass will not frost properly.
3)  Place six mint leaves in the bottom of the glass with 1 teaspoon of sugar. Muddle contents gently. Fill glass with cracked ice.
4)  Add 3 ounces of bourbon (or to taste) and stir briskly until frost develops on glass.
5)  Add more ice and tuck a few more mint leaves into the ice.
6)  Serve with a short straw to help get your nose close to the mint at the top of the drink.

Yes, Kentucky Derby weekend is close at hand, and, should you be playing host or hostess to a party this year, you’ll know the drink’s history and, more importantly, you’ll know how to make a “perfect” version to serve your guests.

The mint julep’s original purpose was as a refreshing pick-me-up on a hot day, a purpose it still fulfills well. It first became fashionable in Southeastern states like Virginia, where farmers could grow the fresh mint that gave the drink its cooling flavors and aromas, and was made with rum or rye (the former being more mojito than anything else).

Bourbon became the liquor of choice in the 20thcentury, and in 1938 the Kentucky Derby began serving the drink in souvenir glasses for 75 cents each. Estimates on how many mint juleps are consumed over the two days of Derby festivities range from 80,000 to 120,000. Unfortunately, the need to mass-produce the cocktail requires the technique of making the drink to be so watered down that what most people drink at the Derby is a shadow of the real thing: a sweet, murky, minty concoction that is overbearingly sweet and little else, especially in this day and age of dry martinis.

If you want the real mint julep experience, you need to take it slowly. Please do not use anything pre-mixed whatsoever. Let the words of Lt. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr. be your guide. This early 20th century Virginia Military Institute and West Point graduate wrote a letter to a superior officer on the process of making a mint julep.

“The preparation of the quintessence of gentlemanly beverages can be described only in like terms,” wrote Buckner. “A mint julep is not a product of a formula. It is a ceremony and must be performed by a gentleman possessing a true sense of the artistic; a deep reverence for the ingredients and a proper appreciation of the occasion. It is a rite that must not be entrusted to a novice, a statistician nor a Yankee! It is a heritage of the Old South; an emblem of hospitality and a vehicle in which noble minds can travel together upon the flower-strewn paths of a happy and congenial thought.”

If you are prepared to take your time, to shave or crush the ice and muddle fresh mint and frost a glass properly, you will make a beautiful julep. To quote Buckner one more time: “Being overcome with thirst, I can write no further.”

Categories: Beer, Wine, Spirits, Food