The first record of the mint julep was in an 1803 book published in London that described the drink as a “dram of spirituous liquor that has mint steeped in it, taken by Virginians of a morning.”
Is it just me, or up until some time in the second half of the 20th Century did everybody in the US and UK spend the whole day half-swacked? Mad Men has garnered a lot of attention for the impressive and continuous imbibing of its characters (and for being an excellent show), but books and films, both fiction and non-fiction, give the overwhelming impression that for most of our country’s history, Americans spent their days knee-deep in the sauce.
If we all tried throwing back a mint julep first thing in the morning, I bet we’d begin to understand where those prohibitionists were coming from.
But on Kentucky Derby day, such drinks are in order. And while you probably shouldn’t start “of a morning,” you don’t need to wait until post time either.
Cocktailery is far more prone to orthodoxy and pretension than cooking, and the cocktail “comeback” of recent years has bred even more fervor over things like rare liqueurs, homemade bitters, and fancy ice. These things lead to great drinks, and I happily shell out for the occasional $12 bacon-infused manhattan (though I can hear my mother’s shrieks of horror somewhere in the distance when I do).
But the home bar, like the home kitchen, should be informed solely by what you enjoy and what you feel is worth spending. Some top shelf liquors are worth it to some people, and you should just let your own taste and wallet be your guide.
For my part,when making bourbon-based cocktails, I have been consistently pleased with Evan Williams, which sells for the recession-friendly price of about $15 a liter in New York, the city of the $12 six pack. Booze snobs may turn up their noses, but that just means there will be more for you.
This is definitely a strong drink, so if you’re entertaining people who aren’t necessarily bourbon fanatics, you can cut the drink with club soda. Sort of a Kentucky mojito. The booze snobs will definitely turn up their noses, but they can take their complaints and get right back on the horse they rode in on.
1 tsp. sugar
3 oz. bourbon
several mint leaves (about as much mint as you can squeeze to the size of a large marble)
1.Shred mint and rub between your fingers to “bruise” it and release the oils, which is where the flavor is.
2. Combine first three ingredients in a julep cup. What’s that? You don’t have a julep cup?!?!? What kind of mixologist are you?!?! Why I oughta… [SCUFFLE]. Sorry, booze snob got hold of the keyboard. No julep cups necessary. Any glass will do just fine.
3. Muddle (that is, smash and mix) the ingredients together until the sugar is dissolved.
4. Add ice and drink like an early-rising Virginian, scoffing at any nearby booze snobs.
5. Bet on the bay.