This week on our Mint Julep Journey—a four-in-one! Take it away, Brian!
Today’s recipe once again comes from Jerry Thomas’s Bartender’s Guide, published in 1862. This is actually four juleps in one; Thomas included his version of a standard mint julep at the time followed by three variations on it, one of which is similar to our modern-day mint julep. There is a fifth recipe but it’s more of a punch for five people and not along the same lines as the main four, so we may try that at a later time. At Locust Grove at this time, the last Croghan to own the farm and live there, St. George Croghan, had died the year prior, although he had not lived there in some time. It was still in the Croghan family but rented out.
Thomas specified a “large bar glass” for these so we will not be using a julep cup but a Victorian goblet. Any glass big enough will do.
First up is the main mint Julep. You will need:
- 1 tbsp. sugar
- 2 1/2 tbsp. water
- 3-8 sprigs of mint
- 3 oz Cognac
- Crushed Ice
- Small pieces of sliced orange
- dash of Jamaica rum
- Extra sugar
Dissolve the sugar in the water. Take three or four sprigs of mint and press them well in the sugar and water until the flavor of the mint is extracted. This is the first recipe we have done where the leaves are left on the stem for this part. Add three oz. of Cognac and mostly fill the glass with crushed ice. Thomas then says to draw the mint stems out of the glass and insert them in the ice, stems downward, arranging them like a bouquet. It could just be operator error on my part, but I cannot figure out how to do the first part without having the mint come out like a limp mess and generally unable to do its job as the garnish for this beverage so I discarded the mint that was pressed in the sugar and water and used fresh stems, lightly agitated in the hand to start to release the scent, to insert stem down in the ice. Arrange berries and small pieces of sliced orange on top. Dash with Jamaica rum. Sprinkle white sugar on top. Add a straw. I always snip the straw off so your nose will be very close to the mint when you sip. Thomas says this is “a julep fit for an emperor.”
The next three use the same process but with a different spirit in place of the Cognac and omitting the berries and orange. It is unclear whether or not to it is to be dashed with rum or not so go with your preference there.
The three alternate spirits are:
Brandy: Since the main mint julep specified Cognac and this one is listed separately, I am going to assume that this may be referring to domestically produced brandy, which was a major player on the spirits scene in the United States prior to Prohibition. Naturally, I am going to recommend turning once again to Spirits of French Lick’s Old Clifty Hoosier Apple Brandy. This is a very rare example of an old-style apple brandy from this region currently available and Spirits of French Lick (and especially their master distiller Alan Bishop) have been very generous to the Locust Grove distillery project.
A side note here- the idea of a 19th-century mint julep made with brandy is actually what launched this whole journey for me; a major personal area of fascination is details of daily life in the United States and England in the 1840s so I have spent some time exploring Modern Cookery for Private Families by Eliza Acton, first published in London in 1845. It predated Mrs. Beeton’s better-known work and I honestly very much prefer it. This is where I noticed, on page 582, a recipe for a mint julep, which Acton described as “an American receipt.” She also gave the disclaimer at the end, “the receipt, which was contributed by an American gentleman, is somewhat vague.”At the beginning of the recipe, she basically said that whatever alcohol you want to use will work but later just mentioned brandy, which sent me looking for other documentation of brandy in mint juleps, and ultimately the material for this whole minty, boozy journey we are going on together here.
Gin: For this one, the best choice is Ransom Old Tom Gin, which the cocktail historian we have met a few times in this series, David Wondrich, helped develop specifically to be like a 19th-century style Old Tom gin. As he points out in his book Imbibe!, London dry gin, more the style we are used to today, did not become the principal gin import into the United States until the 1890s. For 1862 in the United States, this is probably the most authentic gin currently available.
Whiskey: While Jerry Thomas listed this as a variant on the mint julep, it has all of the elements of what we think of as a mint julep today. It doesn’t list Bourbon, specifically, but that was very much an option in 1862, so as a native Kentuckian, I can’t resist. Old Bardstown 100 proof is my personal favorite julep Bourbon but whatever your favorite is will work just fine. Or get adventurous and experiment with other whiskey styles that were available in 1862!