In the second installment of “People Making Drinks” Ari Kiki, a New York City drag queen and a fixture at clubs in the West Village, makes a Mint Julep.
When done up properly (sort of like a drag queen) the Mint Julep can be a fussy drink—all crushed ice and fancy silver cup—which is exactly why it might be surprising that it packs such a punch. Essentially sweetened bourbon over ice with some mint for aromatics, the drink is one of the more powerful cocktails to be associated with contemporary day drinking—the association, of course, owing much to the Kentucky Derby, where 120,000 juleps are said to be sold every year. Skip over the trappings though, and you’ll find an all-American drink with roots dating back to 18th century. The exact origins and recipe have no doubt inspired countless dissertation, but, in short, it most likely originated in Virginia in the late 1700s when it was considered an aristocratic drink. (Who else could afford silver tins and a coveted block of ice used simply for crushing?) The drink spread throughout the South during the first half of the 19th century, eventually becoming the “Coca-Cola of its time,” as William Grimes calls it in his Straight Up or On the Rocks. Bourbon became the preferred spirit only after the Civil War, when the South was impoverished and, thanks to phylloxera, brandy had all but disappeared.
This version goes light on the simple syrup and heavy on the bourbon. And about that spanked mint—it’s important. Just ask Ari.
In case you missed professional bodybuilder Eugene Mishin making a Mexican Firing Squad, right this way. Up next week, watch a geisha make a Martini.