Brandy Julep – Recipe below from Jerry Thomas’ ‘The Bon Vivants Companion’
Use large bar glass
One tablespoonful of white pulverized sugar.
Two and one-half tablespoonfuls of water; mix well with a spoon.
TAKE three or four sprigs of fresh mint, and press them well in the sugar and water, until the flavor of the mint is extracted; add one and a half wineglasses of Cognac brandy, and fill the glass with fine shaved ice, then draw out the sprigs of mint and insert them in the ice with the stems downward, so that the leaves will be above, in the shape of a bouquet; dash with Jamaica rum, and sprinkle white sugar on top. Place a straw tastily, and you have a julep that is fit for an emperor.
The mint julep was originally prescribed and appears in literature as early as 1784, it’s use was as a medical cure and appears as follows “sickness at the stomach, with frequent retching, and, at times, a difficulty of swallowing. I then prescribed her an emetic, some opening powders, and a mint julep.” Which to me sounds mightily like a colonial hangover cure, and even today mint is used as a solution for nausea.
It’s use wasn’t restricted however to medical needs, a traveller to Virginia in the US in 1820 noted that on a 17 hour stagecoach journey they stopped at 10 public houses, at each stop they had a mint julep, and was surprised that apart from “slight slurring and increasing earnestness in their discussion they appeared none the worse for wear”, which makes sense spread over 17 hours.
A julep did not start out as a drink of the masses, the original recipes used Brandy or Cognac, which carried more of a price tag as they were imported from Europe, it wasn’t until after the civil war in the 1860’s that people decided they had better things to spend there money on than imported brandy, like rebuilding a war ravished country, that whiskey became the spirit of choice, and despite its constant prevalence rum would never be used, that was so lower class.
To be able to furnish your visitor with an appropriate julep you needed several resources that established you as a member of the social elite. Firstly, you needed ice, which took Frederick Tudor and the Wenham Ice company at least until the 1830’s before this started to become a little more ubiquitous, and even then, you really needed your own ice house, or at least enough money to buy expensive ice. Secondly, you need a solid silver cup to serve the julep in, not just silver plated, but solid silver. And thirdly and finally you need a trusty skilled servant, the type who could reliably visit your ice house, handle your silver and most importantly frost this vessel so that your guests wouldn’t turn up their noses at your hard work.
I’d never had a brandy julep until today, I’d previously stuck to the Bourbon type, which I’ll cover at a later summer date. It was delicious, I think I may even prefer this to the more typical style Julep you get today, and all juleps are great drinks, which should be consumed more often, Mojito’s are so 2002 after all.