The Mint Julep


Wherever there is a mint julep, there is a bit of the Old South. For the julep is part ceremony, tradition, and regional nostalgia; part flavor, taste, and aroma; and only by definition liquor, simple syrup, mint, and ice. It is all delight. It is nectar to the Virginian, mother's milk to the Kentuckian, and ambrosia to Southerners anywhere. The mint julep is the subject of the poet and the cliche of the novelist, yet the best receipts for it are more poetic than the poetry it has inspired, and its elusive history is more intriguing than many a piece of fiction.

General Simon Bolivar Buckner (not the Confederate General Buckner but his son who was killed at Okinawa in World War II) wrote out, though it was probably composed by someone else, the literary receipt for the twentieth century julep. Here are General Buckner's directions for the "Mint Julep - the quintessence of gentlemanly beverages" as he recorded them in a letter to a fellow general:

"A Mint Julep is not the 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, an emblem of hospitality and a vehicle in which noble minds can travel together upon the flowerstrewn 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 followsó

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 through its banks of green moss and wild flowers until it broadens and trickles through 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, and 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 snow 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 important and delicate 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 goblet 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 by thirst I can write no further."

(from The Mint Julep by Richard Barksdale Harwell)

Ah, but there's more to it than just that. Probably the best of all mint julep sites on the World Wide Web is the "Buckner Mint Julep Ceremony" page, which you can go to by clicking here. After you've slaked your thirst there, so to speak, be sure to visit the Buckner Home, where hospitality, mannered culture and The Old South remain! - Jonah