Mint Julep

«The Julep, The Mint Julep, and the Kentucky Mint Julep.»

Quotes and Commentary.

By George Sinclair.

When one calls for a Julep in the modern bar, one is assumed to be asking for a Mint-type Julep, and not only that, but a Bourbon-based Kentucky Mint Julep. Some how the truly multifarious nature of the historical Mint Julep has been rail-roaded into a narrowly defined category, the modern Mint Julep. Take a look at the wide selection of historical quotes, which illustrate the different ingredients used during the over 200 years of Mint Julep history, and also the methods of preparation used to produce these masterpieces. Learn something you didn't know before about the forefather of the Mojito.

"Julep." "A dram of spirituous liquor that has mint steeped in it, taken by Virginians of a morning."

The above, 1803 reference, is often stated as being the first reference to a Mint Julep, but, and this might seem picky to some people, it actually refers to a Julep made with mint; The drink itself is not entitled «Mint Julep», and so should not be regarded as such. Before 1803 there are numerous references to Juleps; Though most of these were medicinal in purpose, there are citations for recreational Juleps, i.e. Those to be consumed for the purposes of pleasure, rather than to cure some ailment or malady.
The 1803 reference to a mint-related Julep, is not the first association of Mint to the Julep; Medicinal Juleps of the 1700's included mint water in some of their recipes, as well as cinnamon water, and all manner of other herbaciously flavoured «waters».

Transatlantic Sketches: Comprising Visits to the Most Interesting Scenes in North and South... By James Edward Alexander, 1833.
"... Mint Julep. Put four or five stalks of unbruised mint into a tumbler, on them place a lump of ice; add brandy, water, and sugar."

The above quotation is the first which specifies a recipe for the non-medicinal type of Mint Julep; This is definitely not a bottled medicine, prescribed by the tablespoonful; This is a bona fide libation, to be drunk at one sitting, and then presumably followed by another.

The recipe given for the 1833 Mint Julep is identical to a drink called a Mint Sling; However in future years the Mint Julep would come to be defined by its almost, but not quite, exclusive use of pounded/ shaved/ crushed ice.

The 1833 Mint Julep is also the first occurence of the libation being a Brandy based drink, which is what most recipes would list it as being, either that or it was shown as a Rum drink; Not a lick of Bourbon in sight.

"Autobiography of an Irish traveller", By Irish traveller, 1835

"Sir, you've only to ask me for what you may want, for father to-morrow will be all mops and brooms with his voters, and not know a glass of grog from a mint julep.*"

*Fresh mint pounded and the juice mixed with rum and sugar.

So what was the Mint Julep in the eyes of the above author?, it would seem that, to the “Irish Traveller”, it was considered a Mint Grog, not too dissimilar to a Mint Sling. The above Mint Julep recipe advocates mixing only the juice from the mint, rather than adding the Mint Leaves themselves, as most modern Mint Julep constructors would.

A Grog is rum, and water; sometimes with the addition of sugar, and on even rarer occasions the addition of lemon; Add mint to that lot, and you have an uncarbonated Mojito; However, without mention of type of ice used, I can only assume that the Mint Julep, as stated in the above quote, was mint, rum, sugar, with the type of water being unstated (frozen or liquid?).

"Memoirs of a Water Drinker", By William Dunlap, 1837

"The mint-julep before breakfast in summer, and the egg-nogg in winter; the enticing toddy, with ice, at one season, and smoking hot at the other, as a prelude to dinner..."

Such a habit, of drinking Mint Juleps at the crack of dawn, might seem odd to us modern folk, but in that day and age, it was the done thing. The 1803 Julep reference referred to the Julep as a morning drink, and it seems that little had changed in 1837, though it is likely that the later Julep would definitely have had an iced element to them.

A Diary in America, By Capt. Marryat, 1839

"There are many varieties [of Mint Julep], such as those composed of Claret, Madiera, &c.; but the ingredients of the real mint-julep are as follows. I learnt how to make them, and succeeded pretty well. Put into a tumbler about a dozen sprigs of the tender shoots of mint, upon them put a spoonful of white sugar, and equal proportions of peach and common brandy, so as to fill it up one-third, or perhaps a little less. Then take rasped or pounded ice, and fill up the tumbler. Epicures rub the lips of the tumbler with a piece of fresh pine-apple, and the tumbler itself is very often incrusted outside with stalactites of ice. As the ice melts, you drink."

The above Mint Julep, as you will have already noted, did not contain exclusively alcoholic spirits, but was also able to be contructed from wines also. It also seems as though people were less cantankerous about their libations than they are today; Pineapple flavours in a Mint Julep, along with the Claret, or Madiera, would raise the eyre of most edjicated drinkers these days. Even though they have no reason, or historical evidence, to back their position up.

Travels in North America During the Years 1834, 1835 & 1836, By Charles Augustus Murray, 1839.
"This delicious compound [Mint Julep] (which is sometimes in the southern and western states denominated "hail-storm") is usually made with wine, (madera [sic] or claret,) mingled in a tumbler with a soupçon of French brandy, lime, or lemon, ice pulverised by attrition, and a small portion of sugar, the whole being crowned with a bunch of fresh mint, through which the liquor percolates before it reaches the drinker's lips and "laps him in Elysium." This beverage is supposed to be of southern origin, and the methods of preparing it vary in the different states; some Carolinians will assert that it can only be found in perfection at Charleston; but I believe, that, by common consent, the immortal Willard (who kept the bar of the city hotel in New York for many years) was allowed to be the first master of this art in the known world. "

Remembering that the Julep, and Mint Julep, were originally prepared with water, rather than ice, of any form; It seems only natural that a similar drink, but which contained crushed ice, would be given a different novel name to go along with this novel form of libation dilutant (I am referring to the crushed ice).

The crushed ice contained in the Mint Julep, and also Sherry Cobblers, was not made in the same way as most modern mixologists would create their crushed ice (i.e. Ice cubes broken down into smaller bits, using some sort of rotary crushing device); No, the latter-day mixology pioneers would fasten large slabs of ice to work-tops and then grind away at them, using a sharpened implement, not too dissimilar to a carpenter's plane; The only other option was to just pummel large pieces of ice with tools until it was as fine as snow.

Having compared the crushed ice created by pummeling a fist sized slab of ice with a spanner (monkey wench), to that produced by using a hand-cranked crushing machine (this method using up trays of ice cubes), I can categorically state that their is no contest, the hand-pummeled crushed ice is superior; The hand-pummeled ice also acts differently in the drink, and dilutes in a different way to the hand-cranked stuff. I haven't got a carpenter's plane-type implement to hand, so I can't tell you what that kind of crushed ice would be like in a drink.

"Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine", 1841

"At Boston he learned to drink mint julep, which he pronounces one of the best gifts of providence, in such a hothouse climate as this. This preparation, of which we hear so perpetually in American tours, consists of layers of mint leaves placed among chipped ice, sprinkled over with two table-spoonfuls of powdered sugar, and a small glass of brandy to crown the whole. This is to be drunk as it becomes fluid, through the medium of a quill or a macaroni pipe. However, one peril of this beverage is, that the glass of brandy should be gradually increased to more. Those who tremble for their self-control, drink "sherry-cobblers." This the colonel interprets by "two glasses of very old sherry, substituted for the brandy.""

The above quotes gives the impression that the only difference between a Mint Julep and a Sherry Cobbler is that the main ingredients are different. The two categories are really similar, and I would have to say that they are almost the same drink. It doesn't seem like a stretch of the impression to called the Sherry Cobbler a Sherry Julep, after all a Julep doesn't nessecarily have to include Mint.

"The upper ten thousand; sketches of American society. By a New Yorker," By Charles Astor Bristed, 1852
«take a knife and a lemon, and do as you see me do; don't mind soiling your fingers. First, you rub the lemon with the back of the knife--that brings out the essential oil better; then you pare off the rind very carefully, taking only the yellow, and not cutting into the white at all. Very well. Imbed your lemon-peel in as much sugar as you would use if making a similarly-sized glass of punch. Sometimes you will see slices of lemon put into a cobbler--nothing can be more destructive; avoid everything but the yellow peel. If you will have something more, put in a slice of orange or pineapple, or a few strawberries. I think this may be done to good effect in a bowl, but not in a single glass. Now fill your tumbler half-way with pounded ice. Good. And now pour in two wine-glasses of sherry. You see we use dark sherry for this, both for strength and the colour. It makes the mixture of a beautiful golden hue; with amontillado or Manzanilla it would look too weak. Don't be impatient; we have to mix yet." He took up one of the spare glasses, covered with it the mouth of the tumbler which contained the magic compound, and shook the cobbler back and forwards from one glass to the other a dozen times without spilling a drop.»

So that is one way of making a Sherry Cobbler, and if it had been made with Madiera or Claret, and then garnished with some Mint, then it would be called a Mint Julep. Nowadays, it is the other way around, a crushed ice drink with Madiera or Claret, or even port-wine, would be looked upon as a Cobbler, regardless of how much mint you garnished it with. It really seems like the Julep has become a spirits only drink.

Echoes from the Backwoods, Or, Sketches of Transatlantic Life, 1846.
"Mint-julep is thus concocted:- Fresh raw mint. Equal quantities of brandy and rum. Sugar, with rough ice planed quite thin. The tumbler filled up with water to the top. It is poured backward and forward into another tumbler till the whole is churned up."

Here we have a mixture of brandy and rum, but still no mention of Bourbon whiskey, or any whiskey for that matter; Note also that once again the mixture is shaken, rather than stirred.

"Drayton: A Story of American Life", By Thomas H. Shreve, 1851.

"Get a tumbler, fill it half full of brandy, put sugar and mint in it, and then fill it up with ice, for I'm famishing for a julep."

Once again, no mention of Whiskey, or Bourbon Whiskey.

Medical Lexicon, by Robley Dunglison, 1851.
"MINT JULEP. A drink, consisting of brandy, sugar, and pounded ice, flavoured by sprigs of mint. It is an agreeable alcoholic excitant."

Five Years' Residence in the West Indies, By Charles William Day, 1852
"Another potation, called cocoa-nut [sic] julip, cannot be passed over, being worthy of Ganymede. It is the water of young green cocoa-nuts poured into a glass goblet, holding at least half a gallon, and to this is added the gelatine which the said nuts contain, sweetened, secundem artum, with refined sugar and Hollands gin. Without hyperbole this is a delicious drink."

Now I just had to mention this recipe, coconut water mixed with the malty taste of Genever (aka. Hollands Gin), and sugar. I think we could also call this a Coconut Sling, as it is such a simple drink, it could fit in both categories (Sling or Julip, maybe even Grog).

Dashes of American Humor, By Howard Paul, 1853.
"The "Mint Julep" is the most fashionable drink of the summer season; and when the large goblet is diamonded with bits of ice, that rise like a miniature Alpine glacier with a coquetish forest of mint garnishing the side, and the summits crowned with a couple of rosy strawberries, the appearance, to begin with, is hugely fascinating in warm weather.

A Mint Julep garnished with strawberries??? Well, we already had mention of pineapple and lemon, so why not?

Independent American, 3rd August 1855.

"...copied from the bill of fare of a Boston saloon...

Plain fruit Julep, Fancy mixed Julep, Mixed fruit Julep, Peach Julep, Strawberry Julep, Claret Julep, Capped Julep, Arrack Julep, Race Horse Julep,..."

The Quadroon; or, A lover's adventures in Louisiana, By Mayne Reid, 1856.
"The gentleman now placed side by side two glasses - tumblers of large size. Into one he put, first, a spoonful of crushed white sugar - then a slice of lemon - ditto of orange - next a few sprigs of green mint - after that a handful of broken ice, a gill of water, and, lastly, a large glass measure of cognac. This done, he lifted the glasses one in each hand, and poured the contents from one to the other, so that ice, brandy, lemons, and all, seemed to be constantly suspended in the air, and oscillating between the glasses. The tumblers themselves at no time approached nearer than two feet from each other! This adroitness, peculiar to his craft, and only obtained after long practice, was evidently a source of professional pride. After some half-score of these revolutions the drink was permitted to rest in one glass, and was then set down upon the counter. There yet remained to be given the "finishing touch." A thin slice of pine-apple was cut freshly from the fruit. This held between the finger and thumb was doubled over the edge of the glass, and then passed with an adroit sweep round the circumference. "That's the latest [New] Orleans touch," remarked the barkeeper with a smile, as he completed the manoeuvre. There was a double purpose in this little operation. The pine-apple not only cleared the glass of the grains of sugar and broken leaves of mint, but left its fragrant juice to mingle its aroma with the beverage. "The latest [New] Orleans touch," he repeated; "scientific style."

Here we have a New Orleans style Mint Julep, with the featured use of that most exotic of fruits, the Pineapple, and also shaking as the method of preparation. A mixologist should be proud to make a drink such as this, but would the hoi palloi of modern cocktail connoisseurship let them mix such a drink under the name “Mint Julep”, without kicking up a fuss?

Hints for the table: or, The economy of good living, By John Timbs, 1859
"Mint Julep is brandy-and-water, sweetened with pounded white sugar, in which are stuck leaves of fresh-gathered mint. Pounded or planed Wenham Lake Ice is put into the tumbler, and the drink is imbibed through a straw or glass tube. At American bars, the brandy-and-water is first put into a large silver or glass goblet, then the ice, planed or broken very small; pounded white sugar is then dashed over them with a tablespoon; the whole is violently shaken, or tossed from one goblet to another, and served up in a clean goblet; fresh mint is stuck in the ice, a piece of lemon peel hangs over the brim, and a straw is put into the glass."

A simple recipe to follow, but once again made with brandy, and once again shaken «violently».

Modern household cookery, By Sarah Josepha Hale, 1860.
"MINT JULEP (AS AMERICAS RECEIPT). Strip the tender leaves of mint into a tumbler, and add to them as much wine, brandy, or any other spirit, as you wish to take. Put some pounded ice into a second tumbler; pour this on the mint and brandy, and continue to pour the mixture from one tumbler to the other until the whole is sufficiently impregnated with the flavour of the mint, which is extracted by the particles of the ice coming into brisk contact when changed from one vessel to the other. Now place the glass in a larger one, containing pounded ice: on taking it out of which it will be covered with frost-work."

No quote thus far has mentioned the slightest instant of muddling the mint, instead allowing the mint flavour to percolate naturally, and at its own pace; The shaking of the ice is seen as sufficient «rough treatment» for the delicate leaves of mint.

Cups and their customs, By Henry Porter, George Edwin Roberts, 1863.
"Julep, derived from the Persian word Julap (a sweetened draught), is a beverage spoken of by John Quincey, the physician, who died in 1723, and also mentioned by Milton in the lines- ....."Behold this cordial Julep here, That foams and dances in his crystal bounds, With spirits of balm and fragrant syrups mix'd." This drink is now made by pounding ice and white sugar together, and adding to it a wine-glass of brandy, hald a wine-glass of rum, and a piece of the outer rind of a lemon; these ingredients are shaken violently, and two or three sprigs of fresh mint are stuck in the glass; it is then usually imbibed through a straw, or stick of maccaroni."

This English tome of mixed drink lore looked down upon American drinking culture, but seemed to look favourably upon the Mint Julep. The method of preparation does not differ that drastically from the American recipes already cited.

The New, Frederick, Maryland, 18th June 1901.

"Few people understand the manufacture of a mint julep," said Senator Peter. "I have met the marvelous things in mint juleps-bananas, oranges, cherries, raspberry juice, and even cucumbers on one occasion. Like the Maryland terrapin, the Maryland julep is very simply prepared, and when you begin to take liberties with it you are trying to paint the lily."
"In olden times the julep was preferably made in silver pitchers. It should be made so now if possible, and if you have not the silver, glass is the next best substitute. A silver loving cup is the best thing when the party is such that it is not averse to drinking out of the same vessel. That is the real way to make a julep. The next thing is to carefully remove your mint leaves from the stems one by one. The stems are bitter and hurt the flavor. Steep your mint leaves in whiskey over night; don't crush them with a spoon. If you do you are making a mint smash, not a julep. That is the one difference between a julep and a smash. Fill your loving cup almost to the brim with ice about the size of a small hickory nut, not smaller or larger. Dissolve a-half dozen lumps of sugar in as little water as possible. Don't use too much sugar; about half a lump to the drink is all you need. Then first pour the sugared water, in which the leaves have been steeped but strained off. Stir vigorously and then stick spears of fresh young mint in the top of the ice, just leaving aperture enough for your nose and mouth, and you have the mint julep of your forbears. There is not a drop of water to be put in except that in which the sugar has been dissolved. Pour in the whiskey until the vessel is full if you want the best julep."

Yet more background information on the difference between a Mint Smash and a Mint Julep. Most people these days, when preparing a Mint Julep in a bar setting, usually prepare a Mint Smash; This is because of poor teaching, and the low expectation of customers

Nevada State Journal, 1933-07-16.

"Take from the cold spring some water, pure as angels are; mix it with sugar till 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 allowed. Just let it stand a moment. Then around the brim place sprigs of mint, so that the one who drains may find taste and odor at one draft."

"And that, my friend," concluded Cobb, "is one hell of a fine mint julep."

Fine indeed, Mister Cobb, but definitely not the only way to make a Mint Julep.

The Mint Julep is so similar to the Cobbler, that I think it would be a crime to champion the cause of the historical Julep, without also trumpeting the praises of the Cobbler also. The Cobbler and Julep are drink categories that are just crying out to be re-examined, Madiera and Claret concoctions, not to mention Sherry drinks, are all too scarce in the modern bar.

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Mint Julep.

My Version.

60ml Makers Mark Bourbon Whisky,
20ml Gomme Syrup,
2 lemon twists,
8 mint leaves.

Into a chilled tall glass, or Julep cup: Muddle the lemon twists with the gomme syrup, and then add the mint and bourbon whisky; Add crushed ice to the top of the glass, and then churn the ice thoroughly; Finally, top off the glass with a little bit more crushed ice, and decorate with fresh mint sprigs.

An optional extra that I thoroughly recommend is a small amount of Creme de Abricot (Briottet - Apricot Liqueur).