6 parts Bourbon
1 part sugar syrup
Handful of fresh mint
Shake and strain over crushed ice in a silver ‘goblet
Garnish with several mint sprigs around the straw
Today was the first of my Ascot days this year, and unlike last year it wasn’t baking hot thank god. There was one bar making good cocktails and I managed to get a couple of fairly decent mint juleps out of them, which seemed appropriate for a horse racing event with some 150000 being consumed every year at the Kentucky Derby. My wish is for that trend to jump the Atlantic as this is one of the most underrated cocktails, sort of a classy Mojito.
The Mint Julep has been an American staple for about 300 years now, first cropping up sometime in the 1700’s. Like a lot of booze, it started out as something that was prescribed, with this popping up in 1784 “she suffered 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”, and yes, it still works wonderfully as a hangover cure today, all that mint to settle the stomach with a good dose of hair of the dog.
For a long time, mint juleps were the domain of the wealthy as “firstly, to have ice meant either ownership of an ice house or wealth to buy ice, an expensive commodity in the American south, especially at the time – this didn’t really change until the 1830’s. Second, the traditional silver (not silver-plated) cup is a mark of wealth. Thirdly, one needed a servant to make and serve the drink, a trusty servant who could have access to your ice house, your whiskey, and your silver, a skilled servant who could produce the properly frosted cup”, yes, things were a little more complicated in the 19th century.
Now mint juleps started off as a brandy-based invention, when the states was awash with European booze, before a rather severe civil war meant the locals had better things to spend their money on than foreign spirits, things like rebuilding a war shattered country and they went local which let bourbon become spirit of choice.
People were also decidedly passionate about how to make a proper Julep, with drinkers getting all Bond-esque about the correct method as shaken or stirred raised its ugly head. Then the next big thing was spirit of choice, this seemed a little more flexible and today we still have wonderful recipes like a Georgia Julep using peach brandy (Georgia has millions of peaches, local is best remember!), other’s were less flexible, like the wonderful Irvin Shrewsbury Cobb (yes Shrewsbury)” Any guy who’d put rye in a mint julep and crush the leaves would put scorpions in a baby’s bed”, and we’re lucky we don’t have scorpions in this country as I bruise the hell out of the mint, and quite like a rye Julep.
Anyway, the recipe at the top is my go-to Mint Julep recipe, on a hot day I prefer it shaken for a long time to really extract a lot of mint and lengthen it with some ice melt, on a cold one I’d almost make an old fashioned sans citrus, pour this over crushed ice and then garnish with loads of mint sprigs so when you drink the mint hits you solely as aroma, and in a hurry I’d fill up a shot glass with bourbon and rub a piece of mint around the rim, which is close to my favourite recipe.
David Embury has about 4 pages on how to make a Julep, and Jerry Thomas an entire chapter. There’s a few in JT that I may work my way through over the next couple of months, I thought I’s start with a ‘classic’.