HomeFood and DrinkRaising a Glass to Mint Julep Day

Raising a Glass to Mint Julep Day

A minty fresh history of a classic Southern drink on its special day.
By Rebecca Lynn Aulph

Mint JulepDuring Sunday of Kentucky Derby weekend, I ventured to Leon’s in Decatur and situated myself at the bar. Not in the habit of dining alone, I reached for the drink menu instead. As I browsed it, the bartender asked if I was looking for food. I told him that I needed a drink. Politely, he reminded me that it’s against the law to sell me one until noon, so I ordered a bowl of soup to slurp while I waited.

When the clock struck 12, I ordered my first Mint Julep, in honor of the derby and as research for this post on the written history of the drink for Mint Julep Day on May 30. I’d read books talking about sippin’ Mint Juleps on the front porches of Southern-style plantation homes, so the cocktail always sounded like a Southern Belle to me.

When it arrived South of the Mason-Dixon line in the early 19th century, possibly in Virginia, “julep” referred to any sweet syrupy drink and commonly served as a vehicle for medicine. Originally thought to be made with rye whiskey or rum, the drink is appreciated throughout the South, typically with bourbon. Bourbon’s birth state of Kentucky popularized the Mint Julep in the early 20th century, when it became the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby. Now, during Derby Weekend, Churchill Downs racetrack goes through more than 10,000 bottles of Early Times Mint Julep Ready-to-Serve Cocktail, 1,000 pounds of freshly harvested mint and  60,000 pounds of ice to create more than 120,000 drinks.

Usually Mint Juleps only contain five simple ingredients: sugar, water, bourbon, mint and ice. The simple and cool refreshment, however, sparks heated debates among bartenders and has inspired multiple recipes. The classic recipe below comes from the Kentucky Derby and includes not only what to put in the cocktail, but also what to put it in, as the cup or glass in which the drink is served is as important as what goes in it.

At the 1938 Kentucky Derby, Mint Juleps were served in water glasses, which patrons stole for souvenirs. Eventually, management started charging an extra quarter to keep the glass, a small price compared to that of the the gold-plated cup with a silver straw that has sold for $1,000 since 2006. Traditionally, Mint Juleps are served in silver or pewter cups and held at the bottom to allow frosting on the outside, but the drink is more commonly served with a straw in a tall old-fashioned, Collin’s or highball glass.

On May 30, though, everyone everywhere is encouraged to raise any kind of drinking vessel to the Mint Julep. For added flair, find a friend and a front porch and sip hospitably like a Southerner. And plan on walking home. This advice comes from personal experience.

The Early Times Mint Julep

2 cups sugar
2 cups water
Sprigs of fresh mint
Crushed ice
Early Times Kentucky Bourbon
Silver julep cups

Make a simple syrup by boiling sugar and water together for five minutes. Cool and place in a covered container with six or eight sprigs of fresh mint, then refrigerate overnight. Make one julep at a time by filling a julep cup with crushed ice, adding one tablespoon mint syrup and two ounces of Early Times Kentucky Bourbon. Stir rapidly with a spoon to frost the outside of the cup. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Ruth’s Chris Steak House, which is serving new craft Mint Julep cocktails.

Rebecca Lynn Aulph is an intern at Deep South, living in Decatur, Georgia. Find out more about her in our Contributors section, and read her posts about participating in National Novel Writing Month here

rebeccaaulph

Rebecca Lynn Aulph is an intern at Deep South, living in Decatur, Georgia. Find out more about her in our Contributors section, and read her posts about participating in National Novel Writing Month here

 

 

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