If you are crafting a mint julep at home, you are in fact dabbling in a mixology hack that is nearly three hundred years old and replete with Persian influences. In fact, while the mint julep has garnered a lot of recognition as a drink consumed at the Kentucky Derby, its history goes way back than its proliferation in the American south.
Made generally out of bourbon or a Kentucky whisky, the mint julep is actually known as the first real American cocktail of note. But historical threads can trace the pairing of julep with ice to a history of European medicine and to its very name, which has origins in West Asia.
According to certain mixologists, the word ‘julep’ is derived from the Persian word ‘julab’ which was a sweet drink made from water and rose petals. Consuming this refreshing quencher was considered to be a rejuvenating exercise to enhance the freshness and good spirits. When this drink travelled across oceans to the Mediterranean coast, rose petals were swapped for mint leaves because of their abundant availability and the mint julep quickly became a popular drink.
This was a drink consumed in the mornings and some accounts suggest that julep was popularised towards the mid-19th century by Henry Clay, a US senator from Kentucky who brought the cocktail to Washington DC.
As a medicinal potion, a mint julep was used in an age devoid of aspirin by people working on horse farms or in the derby industry to soothe aches and pains. The bourbon helped to numb soreness, sugar gave an energy boost and mint had a rejuvenating quality. The tradition to have a Mint Julep at a Kentucky Derby has endured through decades and even today, if you were to find yourself at Churchill Downs, you can enjoy the cocktail on a fine morning, known as it is for being the signature drink of the horse-racing extravaganza.
A mint julep is served in a julep cup or a rocks glass and since it contains a mix of crushed mint, sugar, carbonated water or soda and a spot of whisky, make sure you go for a premium spirit to extract maximum flavours into the old classic. Make a classic mint julep with a Black Dog scotch whisky to introduce into the flavours of the American south a little bit of the smoky and spicy notes of peaty Scottish moors. Garnish the drink with mint leaves.
Read on for a recipe to make this highly popular derby cocktail right at home:
Crush the mint leaves and sugar in a highball glass with a spoon or muddler to release the flavours.
Fill the glass with broken ice and add the Black Dog.
Add a splash of soda.