When done up properly, 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.
- 2 - 2 1/2 ounces bourbon (preferably bonded)
- 1/2 - 3/4 ounce simple syrup (1:1, sugar:water)
- 1 large mintsprig
Garnish: bouquet of mint
- In a julep tin or rocks glass, muddle the mint sprig with simple syrup by gently pressing to release the oils.
- Pack the glass with finely crushed ice.
- Pour bourbon over ice, and mound more ice into the top of the glass.
- Garnish with a bouquet of spanked mint.
The Mint Julep is a strong drink, especially when using bonded whiskey, so we prefer pouring the bourbon over the ice for greater dilution. Speaking of ice, the finely crushed variety is key to any julep. And spanked mint is exactly what it sounds like.