The mint julep is an old drink associated mostly with the South and conjuring up images of horse races and steamy afternoons on the front porch. In fact, you probably saw plenty of folks sipping a mint julep while watching the recent Kentucky Derby. Because this cocktail is bourbon-based and mixed with fresh mint, it took off in the South with a vengeance. The drink was mostly attributed to dignitaries and the “high class.” Today, most restaurants and bars offer it on their cocktail menu, so its popularity has soared.
Traditionally made with four ingredients – mint leaf, bourbon, sugar and water – many debate the “proper” preparation. Bartenders far and wide vary their method of preparation. Some even “smash” the ingredients releasing essential oils and juices into the mixture, which intensifies the flavor.
The origin of the mint julep is a bit cloudy at best. It is thought to have originated in the 18th century in the southern United States. The story goes that U.S. Sen. Henry Clay of Kentucky introduced the drink to Washington, D.C., during his residence in the city.
While “julep” is defined as a sweet drink and bourbon is the common spirit of choice. You can mix the drink with gin as well as brandy and whiskey.
Pictured is a mint julep from Henry’s on North Market Street. They use bourbon and carbonated water, along with mint leaves to create a refreshing drink on a hot summer day.