The Classic Mint Julep
Getty ImagesThey say that mint was planted at Churchill Downs in Louisville so that mint juleps could be served at the very first Kentucky Derby in 1875. On Derby Day alone, Churchhill Downs sells close to 80,000 mint juleps.
The first mint juleps were made with rum or rye whiskey in the 1700's. Kentucky bourbon whiskey was not widely available until later on in the 19th century. In the bible The Savoy Cocktail Book, the right reverend Harry Craddock refers to a recipe of skipper and novelist Captain Marryatt that uses mint sprigs, sugar, peach and common brandy, pounded ice, and fresh pineapple. (In a letter printed in Jerry Thomas' 1862 book, "How to Mix Drinks or The Bon-Vivant's Companion," Captain Marryatt wrote that the ingredients in a "real" Mint Julep were peach brandy and common brandy, and that "epicures rub the lips of the tumbler with a piece of fresh pineapple." Captain Marryatt found juleps "like the American ladies, irresistible.")
Even Master Distillers will give you different opinions on how to make a perfect mint julep. When fed up with all the complications of juleps, there's the recipe attributed to Henry Watterson, a famed Kentucky newspaper man from days of old: "Pluck the mint gently from its bed, just as the dew of the evening is about to form upon it. Select the choicer sprigs only, but do not rinse them. Prepare the simple syrup and measure out a half-tumbler of whiskey. Pour the whiskey into a well-frosted silver cup, throw the other ingredients away and drink the whiskey."
Mint Julep Recipe:
1. Freeze your glass or metal mug well before serving. This will help prevent the ice from melting so quickly.
2. If you like a minty flavor, put about five small, young leaves of fresh mint minus the stems into the bottom of the cup. The number of leaves depends on how minty you like it. Add more or less to your taste.
3. Add at least 1/4 ounce of some simple syrup to the cup if you prefer sweetness. Add more if you have a sweet tooth, of course. Or add none at all if you really love your booze straight.
4. Muddle the mint and syrup in the bottom of the glass.
5. Fill cup at least halfway with finely crushed ice. You can make your own at home by wrapping ice cubes in a clean dishtowel and crushing it with a rolling pin, hammer, or heavy frying pan.
6. Add 2 ounces of the spirit of your choice. I know we always think of bourbon in a mint julep but try it with your preferred spirit whether vodka, rum, brandy, rye whiskey, or gin. A spirit of at least 90 proof is recommended so the spirit will stand up to all ice.
7. Stir, then add more ice to the top of the cup.
8. Shove the straw through the ice all the way to the bottom of the cup, then cut it off just above the top of the ice.
9. Position a sprig of mint near the straw so that you can inhale the scent of the mint while sipping.
Photo courtesy of flickr4jazz