WHAT? Southern icon. “A mint julep is not the product of a formula,” wrote Lt. Gen. Simon B. Buckner, Jr. “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.”
Heady words to describe a beverage now firmly associated with hats and horse-racing. A drink as old as the South itself, mint juleps are believed to have been brought over to the New World by European settlers. Originally mixed with cognac, rum, or rye, the julep was popular in the 18th-century as an early-morning eye-opener for farmers in the Southern colonies. Since 1938 the drink—prepared with good ol’ American bourbon—has been the official quaff of the Kentucky Derby; approximately 80,000 are consumed each year at Churchill Downs.
Though the quintessential recipe is heavily debated, mint juleps are most often made, as the Lee brothers suggest, by topping barely muddled mint leaves and sugar with crushed ice and a few generous ounces of bourbon. The secret to a standout julep? The shape and quantity of the ice and the frost-retaining capabilities of the serving vessel, according to JBF Award winner Eric Felten, who swears by a snow-cone machine and traditional sterling silver cups.