Joe Redding’s Julep Recipe
If you’re a consistent Roberts & June reader, you may have noticed that we’ve been spending this week on fortified wines, correcting our earlier misperceptions and adding to our catalog. We indeed have one more fortified wine post, but we thought we’d postpone it to next week in honor of today’s first batch of fresh mint from our garden and tomorrow’s Kentucky Derby.
There’s nothing more closely associated with Derby day than the Mint Julep, except perhaps funny hats–and possibly horses. Thus, it was a bit shocking for us to learn that the Julep is not originally a Kentucky Bourbon drink. Then again, how shocking should it be? Kentucky seems to be pretty successful at laying claim to things that aren’t necessarily fully owned by Kentucky. Apparently, Kentucky bluegrass is not really blue, and can be found on four continents, but not in the region of Kentucky from which bluegrass music hails. Kentucky likes to say that all Bourbon whiskey comes from Kentucky, but that’s not true; Bourbon just needs to come from a corn mash and be distilled in new American oak barrels.
So maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Mint Julep isn’t originally a Bourbon drink, whether from Kentucky or elsewhere. The julep actually long precedes the Kentucky derby, having had its heyday from about 1810 to about 1860 (read David Wondrich’s Imbibe for a short, informative, and immensely entertaining history). Like so many of the very old cocktails (see the old fashioned and the daisy), what comes to us as a single drink was actually a class of drinks, which could be made with most any spirit. And until after the Civil War (again, thanks to Wondrich), the default spirit for a julep was Cognac, not whiskey.
To be fair, by the time the Kentucky Derby started to be run in 1875, whiskey (probably due to a combination of difficulty in obtaining Cognac and improved whiskey-making techniques) had become the most popular spirit in a julep. So, if you want to be what we might call Derby-traditional, make sure you have a Bourbon-based julep tomorrow. But if you want to be julep traditional, try this 1840 mixed spirit recipe. It’s beautiful.
Joe Redding’s Julep Recipe
courtesy of Wondrich’s Imbibe
- 1 oz VSOP Cognac
- 1 oz dark rum–preferably Jamaican
- 1 oz tawny port
- 2 tsp sugar
- 2 tsp water
- 3 mint leaves, plus a sprig for garnish
- lemon wedge, for rimming
- Dissolve the sugar in the water on the bottom of a mixing glass.
- Add a bunch of ice.
- Place the 3 mint leaves on top of the ice.
- Pour in the port, Cognac, and rum.
- Throw ingredients back and forth between this mixing glass and another for as long as you can sustain. If that’s too much trouble, shake it with a cocktail shaker for about 20 seconds. It’s not the same, but it’ll do the job.
- Pour everything, including ice into a glass tumbler, or a pewter cup if you want to make a nod in the direction of Kentucky.
- Garnish with the mint sprig. Redding himself gives the excellent suggestion that you should arrange things such that the mint sprig is nose-height. Smell makes a difference.
- Run the lemon wedge around the rim of the glass, particularly where the mouth, rather than the nose, will be.