A Mint Julep may not be the first thing you think to order when you go out to a bar or even be among your repeated cocktails when at home, but the drink has a special place in history.
Sure, the first thing you might think of when you hear the name is the Kentucky Derby which has embraced the cocktail as its official drink since 1930. And with that, as well as a number of literary references, the Mint Julep has been seen as an iconic mainstay in the American South.
Southern writer William Faulkner claimed the Mint Julep as his drink of choice. Faulkner would famously have his Mint Juleps by his side as he wrote some of the most iconic creations of 20th century American literature. And suddenly As I Lay Dying makes a whole lot more sense when you realise it was written drunk.
Hunter S. Thompson’s famous article, “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved,” which appeared in 1970, says: “By mid-afternoon, they’ll be guzzling mint juleps with both hands and vomiting on each other between races. The whole place will be jammed with bodies, shoulder to shoulder. It’s hard to move around.”
It’s mentioned in Gone With The Wind, where Margaret Mitchell makes various references to the Julep, including a scene where “…Scarlett teasingly clicked her tongue against her teeth as she reached out to pull his cravat into place. His breath in her face was strong with Bourbon whisky mingled with the faint fragrance of mint.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald used the drink as the epitome of decadence in The Great Gatsby in 1925: “The notion originated with Daisy’s suggestion that we hire five bathrooms and take cold baths, and then assumed more tangible form as ‘a place to have a mint julep’.”
Considering that Gatsby is a fiction steeped in liquor, it is no surprise that a second reference finds Daisy tells her husband, “Open the whiskey, Tom, and I’ll make you a mint julep. Then you won’t seem so stupid to yourself….Look at the mint!”
Cosmopolitan southern novelist and essayist, Walker Percy actually gave a detailed description of how to make a Mint Julep in his short 1975 essay “Bourbon.”
“You need excellent Bourbon whiskey; rye or Scotch will not do. Put half an inch of sugar in the bottom of the glass and merely dampen it with water.
‘Next, very quickly — and here is the trick in the procedure — crush your ice, actually powder it, preferably in a towel with a wooden mallet, so quickly that it remains dry, and, slipping two sprigs of fresh mint against the inside of the glass, cram the ice right to the brim, packing it with your hand.
“Finally, fill the glass, which apparently has no room left for anything else, with Bourbon, the older the better, and grate a bit of nutmeg on the top. The glass will frost immediately. Then settle back in your chair for half an hour of cumulative bliss.”
Woodford Reserve, the Bourbon that has over the years become synonymous with the drink offer a slightly less detailed recipe –
2oz Straight Bourbon Whiskey
0.5oz Simple Syrup
3 Fresh Mint Leaves
Express the essential oils in the mint and rub them inside the glass. To the same glass, add simple syrup, bourbon, and crushed ice. Stir. Garnish with more ice, fresh mint, and powdered sugar.