Thursday, May 29, 2008

Mint Julep - Medicine or Cocktail?

One of the most relaxing and refreshing alcoholic drinks is the mint julep. Popular for nearly two centuries, the drink's history is not clear.

"Julep" is derived from the Persian gulab and the Arabic julab, both of which mean rosewater, and were a scented liquid made from rose petals immersed in water. North African and Middle Eastern cooking relied on its use. During medieval times, rosewater was a popular medicine in Europe.

John Davis' book Travels of Four Years and a Half in the United States (1803) mentions the drink that contains a dram of liquor and mint and is consumed by Virginians in the morning. Davis' book does not say the drink contains whiskey.

The Food Chronology by James Trager reports that brandy poured over ice and garnished with mint leaves is served at White Sulphur Springs, a spa in western Virginia. Reportedly, the drink was considered as a protection against malaria.

Trager's book also mentions that in 1859, the drink was served at Old White Springs in the Allegheny Mountains of Virginia. The drink contains brandy, cut loaf sugar, limestone water, ice, and mint. Eventually, the brandy was replaced by bourbon whiskey.

While Henry Clay served as a U.S. senator from Kentucky, he brought the drink to the Round Robin Bar located in the Willard Hotel. Thus, a popular southern treat finds its way into political circles.

And no Kentucky Derby would be complete without its signature drink. The julep earned that title in 1938 when the cocktail was served in a souvenir glass that sold for 75 cents. The Kentucky Derby Museum estimates that over 80,000 juleps are served during the Derby.

To whip up a pitcher of the famed drink, you need the following ingredients:
  • 2 cups water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 cups mint leaves, loosely packed
  • 2 cups bourbon
  • mint leaves for garnish

Combine water and sugar in saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add mint and boil. Remove from heat, cover and steep for 30 minutes. Pour mint syrup through a strainer. Allow to cool.

Combine syrup and bourbon. Pour into a container with a lid. Keep refrigerated for up to one month. Garnish with mint leaves when serving.

Servings: 4

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