Brian Makes Mint Juleps: The 1840

Next up in our series on the history of the mint julep, Brian shares an unexpectedly delicious edition. 


This recipe comes from Louisville bartender Joe Redding in the year 1840. I have to admit, I was ready to be disappointed by a non-Bourbon mint julep but this is truly one of the most magical, tantalizing drinks I have ever had. And whatever you were thinking you needed to get done before you started drinking it, that notion will be quite dissipated by the time you are done.

Here’s how you can make it at home!

Ingredients:

1 tsp sugar

1 tbsp room temperature water

Crushed ice

Ice cubes

3 large mint leaves

2 sprigs of mint

1 oz (2 tbsp) Cognac (I use Hennessy in the video)

1 oz (2 tbsp) Jamaica Rum (Not Jamaica but I use Spirits of French Lick Stampers Creek American Rum in the video; it has the perfect character for this. Don’t let having a rum other than Jamaican stop you from doing this, though.)

1 oz (2 Tbsp) Ruby Port

Lemon wedge

This recipe calls for a glass rather than the silver cups we are used to. Dissolve the sugar in the water in the glass. Mostly fill the rest of the glass with a combination of a couple of ice cubes and crushed ice but leave a little space so that the spirits can be added without overflowing it. Place the three mint leaves on top. Transfer this all to a cocktail shaker and give it at least 10 good shakes. If you don’t have a cocktail shaker, try pouring it back and forth between a couple of glasses. Pour everything back into your glass. Rub the rim of the glass with the lemon wedge. Agitate the mint sprigs in your hands a bit to get the scent going. Plant them stalk down in the beverage. Put a straw in it and clip off near the top of the mint.

 

Brian Makes Mint Juleps: The Sling

This week, in our series on the history of the Mint Julep, Program Director Brian Cushing takes us through the process of making a “sling”, an early version of what we now think of as the mint julep. Take it away, Brian! 


 

In general, we will be working off of original mint julep recipes in this series but to get the story kicked off, I am going to rely completely on David Wondrich’s excellent research presented in his book, Imbibe: a cornerstone of information currently available on the evolution of spirits and what people did with the in North America.

Calling a recreational beverage a “mint julep” started off as a joke in the later middle part of the 18th Century, right around the time the original owner of Locust Grove, William Croghan, was making it to America from Ireland and getting started. The word “julep” had been used to refer to medicinal concoctions for centuries and what started being called a “mint julep” at that point was really a minty “sling,” an early form of individual cocktail (vs. the popular flowing bowls of punch at the time, a prevailing method for several individuals to partake of spirits made into a tantalizing and palatable form). Aiding the joke was that the essence of mint leaves was understood to be medicinal and could be extracted with alcohol (they are also, of course, very pleasant to the senses).

Wondrich cited an account by none other than Dr. Benjamin Rush of how he observed slings being made (by an acquaintance who eventually drank himself to death): equal parts rum and water with some sugar.

While his unfortunate acquaintance used rum, any spirit was a candidate for a sling, with gin being very common and brandy occupying a more prominent place in American spirit culture at the time. Spirits were often more commonly used in an unaged, clear (or “white”) form at the time. I happened to have some high proof, white brandy on hand so I started with that for this attempt to recreate what these early juleps might have been like. You can find similar products in your local liquor store today, including from Louisville based Copper and Kings, a Locust Grove  Farm Distillery Project sponsor. Since part of the joke may have been alcohol’s ability to extract the essence from the mint leaves, I decided to crush some mint leaves and let them steep in 6 oz of the brandy for a few days.

When the time came to make the drink, I went with Wondrich’s recommendation of 1 tsp. of sugar per 2 oz. of spirit. So, since I had 6 oz. of spirit, I dissolved 3 tsp. of sugar in 6 oz. of room temperature water. Early cocktail recipes often involve sugar dissolved in water instead of simple syrup; it is important to dissolve the quantity of sugar in the quantity of water at room temperature that the recipe calls for first; it will not want to dissolve in spirit and will be problematic in cold water.

Then I strained the leaves from the spirit, added it to the sugar and water, mixed, and dispensed into glasses. For good measure, I placed a couple of mint stalks into each glass, agitated slightly in my hands first to start getting the scent released.

Being used to the magic of a classic mint julep, I was prepared for a disappointment, but actually found it very pleasant, mellow, and maybe a little too easy to drink. One possible origin of the term “sling” that Wondrich points out is the ease at which it is slinged back. You may notice that a crucial element of the mint julep is missing here- ice! It would begin to be incorporated in the 19th Century and by the time the mint julep became no longer a joke but a drink of its own, a staple. In our next installment, we will have made it all the way to 1840 when the joke is over, the julep is getting serious, and the results will be wonders that you won’t want to turn loose of no matter how much you love the classic mint julep!

Cheers, y’all! Stay with us next week as the joke is over, and the julep is getting serious in the 1840s! 

Brian Makes Mint Juleps: The Classic

Here in Louisville, April is Mint Julep Month! To celebrate, our Program Director and Historic Cocktail Aficionado, Brian Cushing, will be taking us through the history of the Mint Julep and some of it’s historical variations! Today, we’re starting with a classic, simple Mint Julep—read on for Brian’s tips and tricks! 


Although there are about as many ways to make a mint julep as there are people who make them, the notion that most people in the present day have of a mint julep is a relatively consistent basic idea because that is how it has been in living memory. So before this series goes into the forms it took in earlier days, sometimes very, very different from what we know now, let’s make make a classic julep as we know them so we have something to compare the rest to. My method began with the recipe on page 6 of the 1938 cookbook dedicated to the Louisville Women’s Club, a plain-looking paperback book in not the best of shape that I was lucky enough to pick up off the shelf at a Locust Grove book sale. I tweaked this and that and used trial and error until I got what I was looking for.

What you’ll need:

  • 2 oz Bourbon. It can be whatever Bourbon you like; I find Old Bardstown 100 proof to work especially well for this
  • 1 tsp. white granulated sugar
  • 6 sprigs of mint
  • Crushed ice
  • Straw
  • A silver or silver-plated cup ideally but other metal cups will work and a glass is not a dealbreaker.

Take the leaves off of five of the six sprigs of mint and crush/muddle them. Fill your cup half full of crushed ice. Add the sugar and crushed mint and mix well. Once the ice starts to turn green, it’s pretty much ready. Add the Bourbon; mix. Fill the rest of the cup with ice and give it another quick mix. With the remaining mint sprig, rub it lightly in your hands to start to release the scent. Plant it in the drink (stalk down). Place the straw in the drink next to the sprig and snip the straw off to a height that will put the person drinking the beverage’s nose close to the mint sprig.

And it’s ready! We’re going to take an interesting and delicious journey from here with some unexpected elements that will give us a taste of what came before.


Thanks, Brian! And cheers, y’all!