The first time a Mint Julep appeared in print was in a book published in London in 1803 where the drink was described as “a dram of spirituous liquor that has mint steeped in it, taken by Virginians of a morning.”
The first time I ever tasted a mint julep was at a party in Virginia, and I spit it out! They say it’s “an acquired taste” and that, my friends, is an understatement. However, there is a certain charm in serving this beloved southern drink, especially in summer but certainly not “of a morning!”
It’s a warm weather drink though, supposedly sipped from icy cold pewter cups as you stand beneath the broad leaves of a stately Magnolia tree. Although I personally don’t love the taste, the idea of a mint julep always takes me back in time travel to the book/film, Gone with the Wind, and parties at the old plantations, but no one is really sure about the true origins of the Mint Julep.
THE KENTUCKY DERBY
Juleps are also always associated with the Kentucky Derby, where 120,000 are served at Churchill Downs within two days of racing. Churchill Downs is famous for unveiling the world’s largest mint julep glass. It is 6 feet tall, shaped like an official 2008 Derby glass, and can hold 206 gallons of mint juleps dispensed via a complicated pumping system! Another of the world’s many wonders!
HOW TO BE A JULEP BARTENDER
Today’s MJ’s are still made in time honored tradition with bourbon, sugar, water and a mint garnish (usually spearmint). The mint is meant to enhance the flavor and enlarge your experience beginning with a seductive fascinating aroma! Maybe I should think again about spitting out such an erotic drink!
Here’s a typical aromatic Southern recipe:
Ingredients: About 20 mint leaves; 2 tsp sugar; 2 to 3 oz. bourbon; plenty of crushed ice.
Instructions: Put mint leaves and sugar in a pewter Mint Julep cup. Muddle leaves and sugar until sugar dissolves. Add bourbon and stir. Fill a pewter cup with crushed ice and stir until an icy frost develops on the outside of the cup. Garnish with additional mint leaves or a whole sprig and serve immediately. Makes one Mint Julep Cocktail.
RULES FOR HOLDING A MINT JULEP CUP (Even if you’re already “in your cups.”
Never heard of a rule for holding a cup? How about this one:
Hold it only by the bottom and top edges! This is so frost will form and build up on the larger outside surface (presumably to make you feel cooler in warm weather). If you hold the cup by its sides, the heat from your hand will penetrate and make the drink too warm. The object after all, is to keep you cool, feeling no pain and probably totally snockered.
PLANNING A PARTY?
Next time you’re having a summer party, think about serving Mint Juleps. Entertaining with the wonderful chilled goodness of a traditional Southern beverage will leave your guests reeling, cooled down from the summer heat, and definitely of good cheer, unless they spit it out of course.
Note: This blog post is an edited version of an article I wrote for my favorite little shop in Lexington, Virginia, called Virginia Born and Bred. The store still carries pewter cups that can be ordered online or off , including one patterned after a design by Thomas Jefferson.
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