On Saturday 1st of May, the 2010 Kentucky Derby gets underway and the 136th running of this race will once again see 120,000 plus Mint Juleps consumed at Churchill Downs.
Ironically the one place you don’t want to have a Mint Julep is at the race that has become synonymous with the frosted beauty (that by the way is a great name for a horse!). The reason for this is Early Times, who have been providing the Kentucky Derby drinks for the past few years using their own brand of Mint Julep pre-mix! Pre-mixed Mint Juleps are like Doner Kebab Pot Noodles – wrong, wrong, wrong.
Such an historic and beautiful drink with its silver cups and fresh mint aroma should be treated with the respect and love a London gangster reserves for his mum. As such we have gone back to a time when people knew how to appreciate the finer things in life, when ‘this was all fields’ and tobacco was chewed.
The first recipe for a Mint Julep is by Pulitzer Prize winning author Henry Watterson and shows his love for the base spirit. “Pluck the mint gently from its bed, just as the dew of the evening is about to form upon it … Prepare the simple syrup and measure out a half-tumbler of whiskey. Pour the whiskey into a well-frosted silver cup, throw the other ingredients away and drink the whiskey.”
Hard to disagree with that, however the man who captured the love that should be afforded the Mint Julep was Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner’s in a letter to Major General William D. Connor at the turn of the century.
My Dear General Connor:
Your letter requesting my formula for mixing mint juleps leaves me in the same position in which Captain Barber found himself when asked how he was able to carve the image of an elephant from a block of wood. He said that it was a simple process consisting merely of whittling off the part that didn’t look like an elephant.
The preparation of the quintessence of gentlemanly beverages can be described only in like terms. A mint julep is not a product of a formula. It is a ceremony and must be performed by a gentleman possessing a true sense of the artistic, a deep reverence for the ingredients and a proper appreciation of the occasion. It is a rite that must not be entrusted to a novice, a statistician nor a Yankee. It is a heritage of the Old South, and emblem of hospitality, and a vehicle in which noble minds can travel together upon the flower-strewn paths of a happy and congenial thought.
So far as the mere mechanics of the operation are concerned, the procedure, stripped of its ceremonial embellishments, can be described as follows:
Go to a spring where cool, crystal-clear water bubbles from under a bank of dew-washed ferns. In a consecrated vessel, dip up a little water at the source. Follow the stream thru its banks of green moss and wild flowers until it broadens and trickles thru beds of mint growing in aromatic profusion and waving softly in the summer breeze. Gather the sweetest and tenderest shoots and gently carry them home. Go to the sideboard and select a decanter of Kentucky Bourbon distilled by a master hand, mellowed with age, yet still vigorous and inspiring. An ancestral sugar bowl, a row of silver goblets, some spoons and some ice and you are ready to start.
Into a canvas bag pound twice as much ice as you think you will need. Make it fine as snow, keep it dry and do not allow it to degenerate into slush. Into each goblet, put a slightly heaping teaspoonful of granulated sugar, barely cover this with spring water and slightly bruise one mint leaf into this, leaving the spoon in the goblet. Then pour elixir from the decanter until the goblets are about one-fourth full. Fill the goblets with snowy ice, sprinkling in a small amount of sugar as you fill. Wipe the outside of the goblets dry, and embellish copiously with mint.
Then comes the delicate and important operation of frosting. By proper manipulation of the spoon, the ingredients are circulated and blended until nature, wishing to take a further hand and add another of its beautiful phenomena, encrusts the whole in a glistening coat of white frost.
Thus harmoniously blended by the deft touches of a skilled hand, you have a beverage eminently appropriate for honorable men and beautiful women.
When all is ready, assemble your guests on the porch or in the garden where the aroma of the juleps will rise heavenward and make the birds sing. Propose a worthy toast, raise the goblets to your lips, bury your nose in the mint, inhale a deep breath of its fragrance and sip the nectar of the gods.
Being overcome with thirst, I can write no further.
Lt. Gen. S.B. Buckner, Jr.
VMI Class of 1906