Mint Julep

Photo courtesy of tsand, some rights reserved.

A standard and special edition of a classic bourbon drink to mark US National Bourbon Day (14 June), although let’s not forget Bourbon Heritage Month is still to come (September)!

The Mint Julep is a drink that is now synonymous with Bourbon-country, in particular Kentucky, and an estimated 120,000 are sold over the Kentucky Derby weekend alone.

The ‘Julep’ of the name refers to a sweet syrup drink, and is a corruption of the Arabic ‘julab’ for ‘rosewater’.  In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, a julep was any sweet fruity drink, commonly based with rum, brandy or whiskey.  Now, the only julep-class drink with any global reputation is the mint julep, but there are some signs of revival in the form of rum and berry-based julep drinks as well.

The popularisation of the Mint Julep is often attributed to English Royal Navy officer and later novelist Captain Frederick Marryat, who eulogised thus in his 1839 Diary in America:

“I must descant a little upon the mint julep, as it is, with the thermometer at 100, one of the most delightful and insinuating potations that was ever invented, and may be drunk with equal satisfaction when the thermometer is as low as 70… As the ice melts, you drink. I once overheard two ladies in the room next to me, and one of them said, ‘Well, if I have a weakness for any one thing, it is for a ‘mint julep!’ – a very amiable weakness, and proving her good sense and taste. They are, in fact, like the American ladies, irresistible.”

Today, the Mint Julep is best made with fresh spearmint leaves and pre-chilled shaker and glass.  The traditional julep cup is made of pewter to help it to retain its coldness.  Very important when the thermometer is at  100, or even 70 – less so when (as at present) it is barely touching 50 in mid-June Edinburgh.

Two words of caution before the recipe: it is important to discard the stem of the mint, as this will produce a bitter residue when muddled, and ensure that you are only bruising the mint leaves and not pummelling them to a bitter slush at the bottom of your cup.

Ready? Ok:

  1. Add five mint leaves and a barspoon of simple syrup to your julep cup (if you don’t have $1,000 julep cup to hand a highball glass is a suitable alternative).
  2. Muddle well, but be sure to only bruise and not crush the leaves.
  3. Add a large measure of whiskey.  Bourbon is traditional given the drink’s association with Kentucky, and Early Times Kentucky whiskey is the choice at the Kentucky Derby.
  4. Fill the glass with crushed ice.
  5. Stir and garnish with a pristine mint sprig or three.

For an even mintier alternative, consider peppermint bourbon, or for an added booze and sugar hit, float half a measure of golden rum on top of the built drink.

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