It seems that there are almost as many mint julep recipes as there are people who enjoy these frosty alcoholic beverages.
We searched through newspaper and book archives to collect these nine julep how-tos that span a century — which also means reading 100 years’ worth of debates on how to handle the mint leaves, what cups to use, whether or not fruit should be included in the drink of the Kentucky Derby.
Take a look here at what we found!
1: An old-fashioned mint julep (1862)
From The Bar-Tenders’ Guide, by Jerry Thomas
The julep is peculiarly an American beverage, and in the Southern states, is more popular than any other. It was introduced into England by Captain Marryat, where it is now quite a favorite. The gallant captain seems to have had a penchant for the nectareous drink, and published the recipe in his work on America [in 1840].
We give it in his own words: “I must descant a little upon the mint julep, as it is, with the thermometer at 100 degrees, one of the most delightful and insinuating potations that ever was invented, and may be drunk with equal satisfaction when the thermometer is as low as 70.
“There are many varieties, such as those composed of claret, Madeira, etc. but the ingredients of the real mint julep are as follows:
“Put into a tumbler about a dozen sprigs of the tender shoots of mint, upon them put a spoonful of white sugar, and equal proportions of peach and common brandy, so as to fill it up one-third, or perhaps a little less. Then take rasped or pounded ice, and fill up the tumbler. Epicures rub the lips of the tumbler with a piece of fresh pineapple, and the tumbler itself is very often encrusted outside with stalactites of ice. As the ice melts, you drink.”
From the book “American and other drinks,” by Leo Engel
(Use large bar glass.) Take 1 tablespoonful of white pulverized sugar and 2-1/2 tablespoons water, and mix well with a spoon. Take three or four sprigs of fresh mint, and press them well in the sugar and water, until the flavor of the mint is extracted. Add one and a half wine-glass of Cognac brandy, and fill the glass with fine shaved ice, then draw out the sprigs of mint and insert them in the ice with the stems downward, so that the leaves will be above, in the shape of a bouquet. Arrange berries, and small pieces of sliced orange on top in a tasty manner, dash with Jamaica rum, and sprinkle white sugar on top. Place a straw… and you have a julep that is fit for an emperor.
3: Mint julep of old Maryland (1907)
From the book “Colonial recipes, from old Virginia and Maryland manors, with numerous legends and traditions interwoven”
Here is a recipe for a rare old mint julep of old Maryland, from Miss Mary Josephine Bomberger.
Gather the mint when the dew is on it, sprinkle it with pulverized sugar and a few drops of brandy and water, and bruise it gently till the mint oil begins to come. In bruising the mint, use a glass mortar and a wooden pestle. A pestle made of beechwood is best (but be sure to use a wooden pestle). Put the bruised mint in a glass and pour over it a cup of boiling water. Let this set for 15 minutes. Then strain the mint and pour the juice in a silver tankard that has been filled with crushed ice. Let this set for a few minutes, and then pour into it your French brandy that has been kept at a temperature of about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and garnish the silver tankard with sprigs of mint. Do not use a straw when drinking it, but drink from the tankard.
4: Kentucky Senator Ollie James’ mint julep recipe (1911)
From The Washington Post (Washington DC) – August 12, 1911
A mint julep should be mixed in a silver cup. To make it right, you should put a lump of sugar in the bottom of the cup and add a leaf or two of mint. Then you will fill the cup to the brim with fine cracked ice, and keep stirring the ice with a silver spoon as you put it in. That dissolves the sugar and bruises the mint leaves lightly, disseminating their fragrant odors. It also puts a fine frost on the outside of the cup, which is an absolute necessity if you are going to have a real good mint julep. When the cup is frosted, you pour in enough whisky to fill the cup with liquor, and stick a few sprigs of mint on the side.
From the Santa Cruz Evening News (Santa Cruz, California) – June 11, 1913
An ex-slave bartender at a famous Pennsylvania Avenue emporium, over a frosted glass, gave the following recipe. This is it.
One lump of sugar, wetted with water so that it just begins to crumble, is placed in a silver cap. It must be a silver cup. Over this is poured is poured a good “slug” of whiskey. Half a dozen tender mint leaves are placed in the liquid and the mixture is stirred thoroughly, great care being taken to not bruise the mint leaves. Then this mixture is poured into a tall tumbler, and a handful of fine chopped ice is added. The whole mixture is again stirred thoroughly. Then a dash of brandy is added, and the drink stirred again. Finally, some more ice is added, and the top garnished with sprigs of mint. If desired, some pineapple, maraschino cherries or other fruit may be put on the top. A straw is stuck through the ice, and he who drinks the julep must bury his nose in the mint as he sucks the beverage through the straw.
6 & 7: How to prepare this famous Kentucky drink (1939)
From The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) – May 4, 1939
Mr. Samuel T. Castleman. 2739 Lexington Rd: Mr. T. W. Samuels. Bardstown, Kentucky, and Mr. O. H. Wathen, River View Farms, Utica Pike, lndiana, disclose their methods of preparing this famous Kentucky drink.
The chief points of controversy seem to be whether or not the mint should be bruised, and whether or not straws should be used when serving. There is a definite school of thought on each of these vital points.
Mr. Castleman’s Formula
Put one small cube sugar and enough water to dissolve it into a silver julep cup. Make sure the sugar is thoroughly dissolved and add two jiggers whisky (100 proof or more). Fill the cup with crushed ice, dry the outside of the cup well, stir until the outside of the cup is covered with a snow-like frost. Stuff into the cup a generous portion of fresh mint (the ends of which have been cut out). Do not use a straw — your nose should go right into the bouquet of mint leaves each time you take a drink! By no means add any kind of fruit or fruit juice to a mint julep!
Mr. Samuel’s Recipe
For large quantities of julep, measure loosely-packed mint leaves cut from the stem. Use as many mint leaves, by measure, as whisky (one quart of leaves to one quart of whiskey). Mix the whiskey and leaves together and bruise the leaves lightly. Drain the whiskey off. Add simple syrup to taste (about one-half pint to a quart of whisky). Half fill a silver julep cup with crushed ice. Add enough of the liquid to just float the ice. Add more ice until cup is well rounded at the top. Add a dash of powdered sugar and tall sprigs of fresh mint. Use short wheat straws when serving (if you can get them).
Mr. Wathen’s Formula: Chill silver julep cups thoroughly. To each cup add one-half teaspoon sugar and one ounce of warm water. When the sugar is thoroughly dissolved, add two jiggers of whisky, then fill the cup with crushed ice. When the cup is well frosted add generous sprigs of mint (do not crush) but allow the mint to stick out the top of the cup so that you can inhale its aroma as you drink.
8: Kentucky natives on how to make the perfect mint julep (1947)
From The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) – April 27, 1947
Are horses the main topic of conversation for visitors and natives of Kentucky around Derby time? No, indeedee! Talk may get underway concerning hunches, records, ownerships, trainers, sires, and dams, but it always finally gets around to juleps. And once the words “mint julep” are mentioned, everyone present gets into the tangle.
On no subject are there so many opinionated opinions as there are on how to make the perfect mint julep. And so far time has not mellowed anyone to the point where he will admit secretly or openly that any julep-way is right except his way.
In this “been-going-on-for-years” argument. the seasoned arguers have built up data that take the wind out of the newcomers on the scene. So it’s only fair that once again the history of this tamed drink be recalled.
By research, we find most all julep fans agree on a few details in the past history of the drink. To wit: The earliest form of the word was iulep. Arabs called it julab, the Portugese julepe. Latins named it julapium, Persians, gul-ab, which means rose water. Julep, as we spell it, was bequeathed to us by the French. All this took place long before there were Southern states in this country.
When this part of the history of the julep has come to an end, the fighting begins. There are any number of features of julep-making where the battle royal may be pitched. There are the silver-cup advocates versus the glass group; the slightly-bruised mint versus the all-bruised school; the rye versus the-bourbon school; the fruit-trimmed versus the plain school.
On some points, Kentuckians will differ amongst themselves, but no sane Kentuckian will give an inch toward a Marylander’s argument that rye whisky should be used instead of bourbon. If there’s a Georgian, around it won’t take him long to boast that the mint julep originated within his state, but Kentuckians always have been credited with recognizing a good thing when they saw it and making it their business to popularize it.
Many famous Kentuckians have left behind them their own personal recipe for making a mint julep. And Henry Watterson, once the editor of The Courier-Journal, was no different from the others. It is to him that we turn for this year’s version of mint-julep making.
Henry Watterson’s mint julep
Take a silver goblet — one that holds at least a pint, and dissolve a lump of loaf sugar in it with not more than a tablespoon of water. Take one mint leaf, no more, and crush it gently between the thumb and forefinger before dropping it into the dissolved sugar. Then fill the goblet nearly to the brim with shaved ice. Pour into it all the bourbon whiskey the goblet will hold. Take a few springs of mint leaves and use for decorating the top of the mixture, after it has been well frapped with a spoon. Then drink it. But do not use a straw.
9. How to make a mint julep (1962)
From the Ligonier Echo (Ligonier, Pennsylvania) – June 15, 1962
Put chopped mint leaves into highball glass, add one teaspoon sugar, and muddle with a wooden muddler for about 10 seconds. Add one ounce of 100-proof bourbon whiskey, add shaved ice, and stir slowly, adding bourbon until glass is full. Garnish with mint that has been frosted with sugar, and put the glass in a silver dish heaped with cracked ice.