The history of the Mint Julep
If you look at its history, you look far back before the beginnings of today’s bar culture. That’s because when the term “cocktails” emerged as a synonym for mixed drinks in the 1800s, the mint julep had already been around for several decades. According to David Wondrich, the first references to the drink point to the period around 1770. This makes it one of the forefathers of modern cocktail culture.
“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 honey of Hymettus brought no such solace to the soul; the nectar of the Gods is tame beside it. It is the very dream of drinks, the vision of sweet quaffings.”Joshua Soule Smith, The Lexington Herald (1891).
In its early days it was prepared without ice and with brown rum*. It wasn’t until industrial progress made ice widely available in 1805 that he came up with his now iconic iceberg.
Since 1938, the Mint Julep has also been the official cocktail of the Kentucky Derby, one of the world’s most prestigious and famous horse races.
It all started with … rum?
The modern way of preparation relies almost exclusively on bourbon whiskey*. However, at the time when the mixed drink was invented, it was still prepared with rum.
The choice of spirit used changed several times over time, depending on its availability and American prosperity, among other factors. Rum was cheap and available everywhere, which is why people initially resorted to it.
During the American War of Independence, people used cheap whiskey. As the country’s prosperity rebounded after the war, the much higher quality cognac* came into vogue for the mint julep.
Only since the 1900s has it been commonly prepared with bourbon whiskey. The emphasis is on almost! Because like everything, cocktails are also subject to certain trends. When gin experienced a renaissance in the 2010s, it found itself on many cocktail menus with gin. In principle, the drink works with almost any spirit as long as it has a complex spectrum of flavors.
A must-have: Mint Julep in a silver cup
The question of the right glass is quickly answered here: None at all! An original Mint Julep is always served in a silver cup – and for good reason!
Silver has exceptional thermal conductivity and therefore allows the drink to cool much faster than in a glass. The cold and the meltwater help to balance the drink. Therefore, serve it only when a clear frosting forms on the outside of the cup.
Since many connoisseurs value this ice layer, you should not touch the julep cup with your bare hand during preparation. The fats on your skin may prevent frost from forming in those areas. Although it changes nothing at all in the taste of the cocktail but as we know: The eye drinks with!
It all depends on the right mint!
Under no circumstances should you use mints that have a high menthol content. Therefore, the normal garden mint and peppermint eliminated. Fruity mint varieties such as pineapple, apple or strawberry mint are excellent for this purpose. The same goes for other drinks with fresh mint, such as the Mojito.
The mint is one of the big points of contention in the preparation of the cocktail. Thus, according to Irvin S. Cobb (1936), it is almost a crime to leave the crushed mint leaves in the finished drink. According to him, the mint is used exclusively for rubbing the inside of the cup, flavoring it with it and is then disposed of. Only the sprigs of mint are allowed as decoration. The method of preparation also differs. So first the ice is put into the cup and then the bourbon is poured over it. This should slowly seep through the ice, while afterwards the sugar syrup (sugar water at that time) is added. The resulting meltwater is said to give the drink its balance.
Which bourbon whiskey is suitable for a good mint julep
Since the julep consists of only three ingredients and the whiskey is the main component of the drink, you should reach for a higher quality bourbon. Preferably one that you also enjoy neat. In many bars, unfortunately, people reach for the big names, which give mint juleps a certain monotony.
My favorite bourbon whiskeys for the cocktail:
– Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey – 10 Years
– Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon
– Basil Hayden’s 8 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon