Journalist Joshua Soule Smith was such a fan of the Mint Julep that he wrote a poem for the Lexington Herald in1891, calling the Mint Julep “the very dream of drinks”.
The ingredients may be simple: bourbon, fresh mint, crushed ice, and sugar, preferably served in a frost-covered silver cup, but the history surrounding the Mint Julep is rich. This traditionally southern drink actually has its roots in Ireland and England. A julep was the name given to any sugary cocktail and was originally used for medicinal purposes, including to settle the stomach. It is said that Virginia farmers started the day with a julep drink. Rather than the simple syrup used today, pulverized sugar cubes were used. Ice was hard to get before the days of refrigeration, so a julep with crushed ice was found only in large city hotels, such as in Richmond and New Orleans. For today‘s Mint Juleps, a heaping mound of crushed ice is a necessity.
Our bourbon-based julep is credited to Louisville’s Tom Bullock, the first African-American bartender and first African-American author of a cocktail book in 1917, “The Ideal Bartender”. The Mint Julep’s popularity skyrocketed when it became the drink of the Kentucky Derby after the 1930s and the end of Prohibition. On the first Saturday in May, over 120,000 Mint Juleps are served at the Kentucky Derby and the preceding day’s Kentucky Oaks.
If you attend the Kentucky Oaks on the Friday before the Kentucky Derby, you might find that the Mint Julep is eclipsed by the Lily, the official cocktail of the Kentucky Oaks since 2006. The vodka-based Lily was created by Brown-Foreman’s Tim Laird. The drink is named for the Stargazer lilies that adorn the blanket awarded to the Oak’s winning horse. The drink is pink in color from cranberry juice, an essential ingredient in a Lily.
While recipes abound for Mint Juleps, we like this classic Mint Julep recipe composed of only 5 ingredients:
Prepare mint simple syrup by dissolving 1 cup sugar in 1 cup boiling water. Remove from heat and add one bunch mint leaves. Steep 15 minutes, then cool completely in refrigerator. To the julep cup, add one ounce of the chilled simple syrup, one cup crushed ice, and the bourbon. Add more ice to fill the cup and even mound over the top. Stir and garnish with a mint sprig. Serve with a straw.
A similar recipe can be found at http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/mint-julep-234757.
The blog Pip And Ebby has one of our favorite Lily recipes:
Serve over crushed ice and garnish with lemon wedges and blackberries.
On Derby day, while you’re sipping a sweet mint julep, you might take a moment to recall the words of Joshua Soule Smith:
“Then comes the zenith of man’s pleasure. Then comes the julep—the mint julep. Who has not tasted one has lived in vain… The bourbon and the mint are lovers."
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