Drinks You Should Know: The Mint Julep


It is less than three weeks away from the Kentucky Derby and for the first time in the history of Braised Blue I remembered that I should do a piece on The Mint Julep. So here it is, The Mint Julep. A Mint Julep at it’s most pure is a cocktail made from Bourbon, Mint leaves, sugar and water. Generally a bartender would take some Bourbon, four to six Mint leaves and granulated sugar a muddle them together to extract the oils from the mint leaf then the mixture is strained and poured into a silver or pewter cup, 3 ounces of bourbon is added as well as granulated sugar and water to taste. This blend of ingredients gives you a potent, refreshing and sweet cocktail which can be customized to the drinkers preferences. I personally like there to be less sugar and water going on in my Mint Julep and more bourbon and mint flavours. The history of the mint julep, like many things culinary, from the southern United States, is unclear. The term, “mint julep” can be found as early as 1784, in reference to a remedy for serious stomach upset. It was classified as an emetic*, and probably allowed for the informed to have minty vomit. Other accounts of early mint juleps classified the cocktail as a drink which Virginians consumed in the morning. Kentucky Senator Henry Clay** was said to have introduced the city of Washington to the drink, at the Round Robin bar. All of these stories and accounts probably contain equal amounts of fact and bullshit but southerners do bullshit a damn sight better than they do fact.*** Now I mentioned the Kentucky Derby and it’s inextricable link to the Mint Julep in the opening of this post. The relationship between the cocktail and Churchill Downs has gone on since 1938 but it wasn’t until relatively recently that any one brand of bourbon got involved with the event. The Brown Foreman Corporation, owners of the Jack Daniel’s brand of Tennessee Whiskey won the rights to use their premium Bourbon, Woodford Reserve, in all Mint Juleps at Churchill Downs. There isn’t a more indelible image as the thousands of derby goers dressed to the nines, holding the silver cups full of strong drink. It’s a sight that only Hunter Thompson could encapsulate.

Great creeping Jesus, I thought. That screws the press credentials. I had a vision of some nerve-rattling geek all covered with matted hair and string-warts showing up in the press office and demanding Scanlan’s press packet. Well … what the hell? We could always load up on acid and spend the day roaming around the grounds with big sketch pads, laughing hysterically at the natives and swilling mint juleps so the cops wouldn’t think we’re abnormal. Perhaps even make the act pay up: set up an easel with a big sign saying, “Let a Foreign Artist Paint Your Portrait, $10 Each. Do It NOW!”

Now I am not going to advocate you pounding all kinds of bourbon out of silver cups a few weekends from now, but in the name of everything that is classy and decent at least have one just to see what you’re missing out on. *A substance which induces vomiting. **A thanks to Greg French who corrected me on this. My only reader who knows his Kentucky senators better than he knows his beer, but not by much. **In the best possible way.