By Bob Bell
Each year when I arrive at Churchill Downs for the Oaks and Kentucky Derby in May, the first vendor I see is the one selling the mint julep in the official souvenir glass. Of course you start your morning with the sweet taste of Kentucky.
Best known as the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, this cocktail has an interesting history. It’s said that this drink was originally a medicine of sorts to cure a stomach ache, and in 1803 John Davis published that the drink was a “spirituous liquor that has mint steeped in it and taken by Virginians in the morning.”
To make a mint julep, there are only four or five ingredients — mint leaves, Bourbon, simple syrup and crushed ice. But how you mix them is the question. After reading a pile of bartending books that all seem to vary a bit, I thought I should see what my friend Martha Stewart would mix for the perfect mint julep. Her recipe is as follows:
Martha Stewart’s Mint Julep
6 tablespoons superfine sugar
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
24 mint leaves, plus 4 sprigs for garnish
2 cups finely crushed ice
1 cup bourbon
Directions: Combine sugar, lemon juice and mint leaves in a pitcher. Crush well with a wooden spoon. Add ice and bourbon and mix well. Pour into silver tumblers, garnish with mint sprigs and serve.
The mint julep is traditionally served in a silver or pewter cup and only held by the bottom or the top edge to prevent the hand from warming the drink, allowing the outside to frost. It’s also said that the straw was invented in order to drink the mint julep properly.
The first record of the drink served in a bar was when Senator Henry Davis of Kentucky came to Washington and requested the drink at the famous Willard Hotel bar, the Round Robin. Although this fact is debated, it is a fact the drink was served during his tenure in Washington.
I found that this cocktail was also served in the finest of Gentleman’s Clubs from New York to Bar Harbor during the late 1800s and early years of the 1900s. Cheers!
Photos by Lisa Davis Engel