This article was originally published on chattanoogapulse.com.
Enjoying the timeless Southern mutability of the classic Mint Julep
The Kentucky Derby has come and gone, but the mint julep is here to stay. Though the mint julep became the official drink of the Kentucky Derby in 1983, this icon of Dixie originated in the ancient world of the Arabs, traveled to the Mediterranean, and joined United States culture in 1850 by former U.S. Senator, Henry Clay.
Since then, the mint julep has graced the lips of many famous figures including Teddy Roosevelt, who made his own recipe; F. Scott Fitzgerald, who immortalized it in his most famous novel The Great Gatbsy; and even Scarlett O’Hara in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind: “His breath in her face was strong with Bourbon whiskey mingled with the faint fragrance of mint.”
Yes, the mint julep has, in fact, survived hundreds of years of cultural change. But this Southern libation has done more than just refresh its consumers. The mint julep, particularly in its 18th Century Southern-American roots, has served as an indicator of the elite.
In its very recipe, the mint julep has main class markers. Traditionally, the mint julep has a base in bourbon whiskey, powdered sugar, and crushed mint leaves muddled with water and filled with cracked ice. This drink was often served in silver cups and held onto by the bottom or top edges of the cup in order to allow a nice frost to form on the outside of the cup.
The necessity of ice in the drink meant that those drinking or offering it either had to have an ice house or had the money to purchase ice, an expensive commodity at the time.
Furthermore, the traditional silver in which the drink was first served was also an identifiable marker of class. The mint julep was the drink of the Southern elite and continues in perceived upper-class circles, such as many of the Kentucky Derby attendees.
However, the beauty of the mint julep, beyond its refreshing taste and despite its elitist history, is that it has become widely accessible not because it has been cheapened but because it has been modernized.
Today, the classic silver cup has been replaced with glass and the traditional recipe has been altered and continues to be altered to fit any and every occasion.
We have an example of this in our lovely town of Chattanooga. Recognized as Chattanooga’s best cocktail bar in CityScope Magazine, Stir embraces the diversity of the julep by allowing the drinker to choose his or her own spirit for The American South Julep from bourbon to apple brandy to Holland gin.
“We offer bourbon, brandy, cognac, and gin, so we give our customers a choice of liquor,” says Stir’s sales and marketing manager Kyle Welch. “And we add a sugarcane syrup that we make in house.”
Dr. Thacher’s Cocktail Syrups, handcrafted in Chattanooga, simplify the classic drink by allowing the creator to, according to their motto, “muddle no more” by including all the necessary flavors in a bottle of all-natural syrup. Just add whiskey.
“It’s a staple to have on your cocktail menu,” says Welch. “It’s one of Stir’s top-selling drinks on the patio.”
Whether you crave the classic drink or opt for a more modern twist, the timelessness of the mint julep continues not because it stays the same but because it is always changing.
Sparkling Blackberry Mint Julep
- Small ice cubes (pellet ice from Sonic would work)
- 1/2 cup blackberries
- 4 tablespoons mint leaves torn in half
- 2 tablespoons simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar brought to boil just enough to melt sugar, then cooled.
- 3 ounces of bourbon
- Prosecco or other sparkling wine
- Mint sprigs and blackberries for garnish
- Fill a julep or small rocks glass overflowing with ice cubes.
- In a shaker, muddle the blackberries, mint leaves and simple syrup.
- Add 1 cup of ice cubes and bourbon to the shaker and shake well. Strain the drink into the glass filling it 3/4 full.
- Finish filling the glass with the Prosecco, gently stir to combine.
- Gently press on the mint leaves for garnish to release their aroma before putting a bunch into each cocktail; finish with a blackberry and serve with a short straw.