Mint Julep

April 30, 2018 at 5:03 AM | Posted in Food | Leave a comment
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The mint julep is a mixed alcoholic drink, or cocktail, consisting primarily of bourbon (or some other spirit), water, crushed or shaved ice, and fresh mint. As a bourbon-based cocktail, it is associated with the American South and the cuisine of the Southern United States in general, and the Kentucky Derby in particular.

A mint julep is traditionally made with four ingredients: mint leaf, bourbon, simple syrup, and crushed ice.

A mint julep served in the traditional silver cup

Traditionally, spearmint is the mint of choice used in Southern states, and in Kentucky in particular. Proper preparation of the cocktail is commonly debated, as methods may vary considerably from one bartender to another. The mint julep may be considered a member of a loosely associated family of drinks called “smashes” (the brandy smash is another example, as well as the mojito), in which fresh mint and other ingredients are muddled or crushed in preparation for flavoring the finished drink. The step further releases essential oils and juices into the mixture, intensifying the flavor from the added ingredient or ingredients.

Traditionally, mint juleps were often served in silver or pewter cups, and held only by the bottom and top edges of the cup. This allows frost to form on the outside of the cup. Traditional hand placement may have arisen as a way to reduce the heat transferred from the hand to the silver or pewter cup. Today, mint juleps are most commonly served in a tall old-fashioned glass, Collins glass, or highball glass with a straw.

The mint julep originated in the southern United States, probably during the eighteenth century.

U.S. Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky introduced the drink to Washington, D.C., at the Round Robin Bar in the famous Willard Hotel during his residence in the city. The term “julep” is generally defined as a sweet drink, particularly one used as a vehicle for medicine. The word itself is derived from the Spanish “julepe”, from Spanish Arabic, and this from the Persian word گلاب (Golâb), meaning rosewater.

The mint julep was originally prescribed and appears in literature as early as 1784 “sickness at the stomach, with frequent retching, and, at times, a difficulty of swallowing. I then prescribed her an emetic, some opening powders, and a mint julep.” An appearance of a mint julep in print came in a book by John Davis published in London in 1803, where it was described as “a dram of spirituous liquor that has mint steeped in it, taken by Virginians of a morning.” However, Davis did not specify which spirit was used.

Americans enjoyed not only bourbon-based juleps during the nineteenth century, but also gin-based juleps made with genever, an aged gin.

A mint julep

The mint julep has been promoted by Churchill Downs in association with the Kentucky Derby since 1938. Each year almost 120,000 juleps are served at Churchill Downs over the two-day period of the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby, virtually all of them in specially made Kentucky Derby collectible glasses.

In a contract arrangement between the Brown-Forman Corporation and Churchill Downs that has lasted more than 18 years, the Early Times Mint Julep Cocktail has been the designated “official mint julep of the Kentucky Derby”, although the Early Times sold within the United States is a Kentucky whiskey, not a bourbon, due to its being aged in used, rather than new, oak barrels. However beginning in 2015, Old Forester, which is also produced by the Brown-Forman Corporation, is now “the official drink of the Kentucky Derby,” when sold as Old Forester Mint Julep Ready-to-Serve Cocktail.

Since 2006, Churchill Downs has also served extra-premium custom-made mint juleps at a cost of $1000 each at the Kentucky Derby. These mint juleps were served in gold-plated cups with silver straws, and were made from Woodford Reserve bourbon, mint imported from Ireland, spring water ice cubes from the Bavarian Alps, and sugar from Australia. The proceeds were used to support charitable causes dedicated to retired race horses. Woodford Reserve, Early Times, and Old Forester are sister brands produced by Brown-Forman, and under the terms of its current marketing agreement with Churchill Downs, Woodford Reserve is called the “official bourbon” of the derby.

In May 2008, Churchill Downs unveiled the world’s largest mint julep glass. Churchill Downs, in conjunction with Brown-Forman, commissioned the Weber Group to fabricate the 6-foot (1.8 m) tall glass (7.5-foot (2.3 m) if the mint sprig is included). The glass was constructed from FDA food-grade acrylic, heated and molded into the shape of an official 2008 Derby glass. It had a capacity of 206 US gallons (780 l; 172 imp gal), and distributed the Early Times mint juleps at the Derby with an elaborate pumping system concealed within the “stir straw”.

 

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