I thought the Mint Julep would be a perfect place to start our cocktail section. It is steeped in the tradition and glamour of the antebellum south, and when done correctly will transport you to a rocking chair on a wide porch of an old plantation house. It does not hide the whiskey but joins it harmoniously with its other simple ingredients.
The best hint to the beginnings of this drink seem to be in its etymology. “Julep” is believed to have derived from the Persian word گلاب (Golâb) which translates roughly to “rose water”. It is possible this referred to the use of rose petals to make water more palatable (in those days water was not normally the go-to drink). This technique spread through the Mediterranean where rose petals were replaced with the readily available mint leaves.
When the julep crossed the Atlantic with European settlers it was made with whatever spirit was on hand (Rum, Brandy, etc.) and as the American whiskey industry grew, mint julep as we recognize it today began to take shape though for a long time it was taken in the morning as a pick me-up.
The Mint Julep integrated into southern culture and became the gentlemanly drink to rub elbows over. The drink (along with all American drinks) fell into obscurity during prohibition. Luckily it is difficult for something that enshrined in southern culture to ever just fade away. The mint julep came bouncing back into fashion almost as soon as prohibition was over and was reintroduced to the North by the Kentucky Derby which has promoted the drink since 1938. Over 180, 000 silver cups of the minty nectar are served over the 2 day race festivities every year.
It would be unjust if I did not reference Buckner in this section as his instructions are much more poetic than mine. The bare bones of it is:
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
Splash of water
1-2 bruised mint leaves
2 measures of choice bourbon
Crushed or shaved ice to fill
Mint to garnish
Add sugar, mint and water to cup. Bruise mint with spoon. Add bourbon. Fill with ice. Garnish as desired.
There are of course many ways of making this drink, muddling instead of bruising the mint, or cubed instead of crushed ice…but its easy to keep trying (drinking) until you get it right!