Derby Day is coming! With the Kentucky Derby running this Saturday, the legendary Mint Julep comes to mind. Don’t limit this sublime creation to Derby Day, for this is a drink for all seasons.
Here’s a delightful recipe by J. Soule Smith (1848-1904), a Lexington lawyer and journalist, who waxed eloquent on the subject of the Bluegrass. The Mint Julep is a slim little gem first published in 1949 by Joseph C. Graves, an amateur book printer. The first edition — with it’s hand set-type printed on hand-dampened stock was all of 273 1/3 copies — certainly an odd number, but Mr Graves ran out of paper. Following Joe Graves’ untimely death in 1960, his son, State Senator Joe Graves, Jr had a second edition printed. After the publication of the second edition, Joe Graves established The Gravesend Press, renown for “small editions of exquisite volumes printed with true devotion to beauty and perfection.” Our copy is from the third printing in 1984 of 2,000 copies, and bears a hand-written inscription from the publisher:
Best Wishes to Paul O’Neill, a good friend and a fine man. With affectionate regards from Hart and Joe Graves, Lucy, Margaret and Elizabeth, August 6, 1988.
The flyleaf of the book describes Mr Smith thus: “Considered one of the best local literary stylists of his time, his longest essay on the Bluegrass was published with a collection of photographs entitled Art Work of the Blue Grass Region of Kentucky (Oshkosh, Wisconsin, 1898). To J. Soule Smith, the Bluegrass region of Kentucky was the garden spot of the world, and in that Eden the mint julep was truly the drink of the gods.”
From the old receipt of Soule Smith, Down in Lexington, Ky.
The mint julep has aroused almost as much argument as the war between the states. The controversy over the correct receipt for making the famous drink has raged back and forth between Kentucky and Maryland, Louisiana and Georgia and heated discussions, to say nothing of wagers, are likely to accompany the mere mention of the drink. In Georgia mint juleps have been made with corn whiskey, sweetened with molasses, while depraved New Yorkers have gulped down juleps concocted with such bizarre ingredients as Creme de Menthe and maraschino cherries. It is no wonder that the late Irvin Cobb declared the outsiders were “pretenders and upstarts” and that no one but a Kentuckian knew how to make a mint julep.
The classic receipt for the Kentucky mint julep was published over half a century ago in Kentucky Whiskies. It was written by Soule Smith, lawyer, journalist, and superb raconteur of considerable local fame. In this famous receipt, the making of a mint julep becomes a ceremony. In loving and mellifluent language, the subtle blending of cold spring water with fragrant mint and good Bourbon whiskey and cracked ice somehow evokes the whole charm of the Blue Grass countryside. Here, then, is the famous receipt printed once again in a small illustrated edition for the delight of good Kentuckians everywhere.
THE MINT JULEP
But in the Blue Grass land there is a softer sentiment — a gentler soul. There where the wind makes waves of the wheat and scents itself with the aroma of new-mown hay, there is no contest with the world outside. On summer days when, from his throne, the great sun dictates his commands, one may look forth across broad acres where the long grass falls and rises as the winds may blow it. He can see the billowy slopes far off, each heaving as the zephyrs touch it with caressing hand. Sigh of the earth with never a sob, the wind comes to the Blue Grass. A sweet sigh, a loving one; a tender sigh, a lover’s touch, she gives the favored land. And the moon smiles at her caressing and the sun gives benediction to the lovers. Nature and earth are one — married by the wind and sun and whispering leaflets on the happy tree.
Then comes the zenith of man’s pleasure. Then comes the julep — the mint julep. Who has not tasted one has lived in vain. The honey of Hymettus brought no such solace to the soul; the nectar of the Gods is tame beside it. It is the very dream of drinks, the vision of sweet quaffings. The Bourbon and the mint are lovers. In the same land they live, on the same food are fostered. The mint dips its infant leaf into the same stream that makes the Bourbon what it is. The corn grows in the level lands through which small streams meander. By the brookside the mint grows. As the little wavelets pass, they glide up to kiss the feet of the growing mint, the mint bends to salute them. Gracious and kind it is, living only for the sake of others. The crushing of it only makes its sweetness more apparent. Like a woman’s heart, it gives its sweetest aroma when bruised. Among the first to greet the spring, it comes. Beside the gurgling brooks that make music in the pastures it lives and thrives. When the Blue Grass begins to shoot its gentle sprays toward the sun, mint comes, and its sweetest soul drinks at the crystal brook. It is virgin then. But soon it must be married to Old Bourbon. His great heart, his warmth and temperament, and that affinity which no one understands, demands the wedding. How shall it be?
Take from the cold spring some water, pure as angels are; mix it with sugar until it seems like oil. Then take a glass and crush your mint within it with a spoon — crush it around the borders of the glass and leave no place untouched. Then throw the mint away — it is a sacrifice. Fill with cracked ice the glass; pour in the quantity of Bourbon which you want. It trickles slowly through the ice. Let it have time to cool, then pour your sugared water over it. No spoon is needed, no stirring allowed — just let it stand a moment Then around the brim place sprigs of mint, so that the one who drinks may find a taste and odor at one draught.
When it is made, sip it slowly. August suns are shining, the breath of the south wind is upon you. It is fragrant, cold and sweet — it is seductive. No maiden’s kiss is tenderer or more refreshing; no maiden’s touch could be more passionate. Sip it and dream — you cannot dream amiss. Sip it and dream, it is a dream itself. No other land can give so sweet a solace for your cares; no other liquor soothes you so in melancholy days. Sip it and say there is no solace for the soul, no tonic for the body like Old Bourbon whiskey.