The Mint Julep

Happy Derby Day! Seems like such a lot of hoohah and folderol for a race that lasts about two minutes, but hey, it’s tradition, and any excuse to drink a mint julep is a good one. The celebrations and parties are more fun for me than the race, anyway.

Fine Bourbon whiskey, a little simple syrup, very gently bruised mint, lots of crushed ice, and lots more mint on top. That’s all there is to it. That’s how it’s done.

I’ve been served some damned poor excuses for what some people dared to call a “Mint Julep” in my day, and unfortunately it put me off them completely for years. The first and worst was from Pat O’Brien’s in the French Quarter. It was a sweet, horrid concoction made with some artificially-colored bright green mint syrup. The bartender actually mocked me when he served me that abomination he had just made, saying, “There ya go, brah … ya gonna have da freshest breath in town.” I thought I hated Mint Juleps. It turned out to be a simple thing, though — I had just never had one made properly. Ever. Until, thank the Cosmos, I did.

I can’t do it justice here. I now place you in the masterful hands of the man who’s one of the great bartenders of the City of New Orleans, Mr. Chris McMillian. You will never have a finer mint julep, or a finer mint julep experience, than ordering one of them from him. Don’t be in a hurry; it takes time. Don’t be in a hurry with this drink, either.

“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.

“The Bourbon and the mint are lovers.
In the same land they live, on the same food they are fostered.
The mint dips its infant leaf into the same stream
that makes the bourbon what it is.
The corn grows in the level lands through which small streams meander.
By the brook-side the mint grows.
As the little wavelets pass, they glide up to kiss the feet of the growing mint,
the mint bends to salute them.
Gracious and kind it is, living only for the sake of others.
The crushing of it only makes its sweetness more apparent.
Like a woman’s heart, it gives its sweetest aroma when bruised.
Among the first to greet the spring, it comes.
Beside the gurgling brooks that make music in the pastures it lives and thrives.

“When the Blue Grass begins to shoot its gentle sprays toward the sun,
mint comes, and its sweetest soul drinks at the crystal brook.
It is virgin then. But soon it must be married to Old Bourbon.
His great heart, his warmth of temperament,
and that affinity which no one understands, demand the wedding.
How shall it be?

“Take from the cold spring some water, pure as angels are;
mix it with sugar until it seems like oil.
Then take a glass and crush your mint within it with a spoon —
crush it around the borders of the glass and leave no place untouched.
Then throw the mint away — it is a sacrifice.

“Fill with cracked ice the glass;
pour in the quantity of Bourbon which you want.
It trickles slowly through the ice.
Let it have time to cool, then pour your sugared water over it.
No spoon is needed, no stirring is allowed —
just let it stand a moment.
Then around the brim place sprigs of mint,
so that the one who drinks may find a taste and odor at one draught.

“Then when it is made, sip it slowly.

August suns are shining, 
the breath of the south wind is upon you.

It is fragrant, cold and sweet -– it is seductive.

No maiden’s kiss is tenderer or more refreshing,

no maiden’s touch could be more passionate.

Sip it and dream -– you cannot dream amiss.

Sip it and dream –- it is a dream itself.

No other land can give so sweet solace for your cares;

no other liquor soothes you in melancholy days.
Sip it and say there is no solace for the soul,

no tonic for the body like old Bourbon whiskey.”

— Joshua Soule Smith, Kentucky Colonel
Published in the Lexington Herald in the 1880s