Brian Makes Mint Juleps: The Quartet

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.

Ingredients for a mint julep are on a shelf — a bottle of Hennessy Cognac, an orange, a goblet, a bottle of Plantation Rum, a bowl of berries, a few sprigs of mint, and a sugar bowl.

All the ingredients for the main mint julep recipe and its variations.

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
  • Berries
  • 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 bottle of Hoosier Apple Brandy alone on a shelf.

Hoosier Apple Brandy

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.

A bottle of Old Tom Gin alone on a shelf.

Old Tom Gin

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.



A bottle of Old Bardstown Whiskey with a square bottom along on a shelfWhiskey: 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!

Brian Makes Mint Juleps: The 1857

For our next historical mint julep, Brian samples The Prescription Mint Julep from 1857! 

For this installment of our walk through the history of the mint julep, we depart the 1840s and make a stop in 1857. The great cocktail and spirit historian David Wondrich brought this recipe to light in his work, Imbibe, originally appearing as part of the serialized story “A Winter in the South” in Harper’s Magazine in 1857. To make it, you will need:

  • 1 tbsp white granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp room temperature water
  • At least three sprigs of mint
  • Finely crushed ice
  • 1 1/2 oz (3 tbsp.) Cognac
  • 1/2 oz (1 tbsp.) Rye Whiskey

The original recipe called for 4 tbsp of sugar; while I generally stick to the documentation, that is a LOT. Wondrich suggested using 1 tbsp. of sugar and I agree- the result is as sweet as you would ever want it to be. Dissolve the sugar in the water in a julep cup (you can substitute simple syrup but might lose something in translation; if you do not have a julep cup, a glass will do). Remove the leaves from one of the sprigs of mint, crush them, and add them to the mixture of sugar and water. Mix. Nearly (but not completely) fill the cup with finely crushed ice; leave enough room for the spirits. Add the Cognac and rye; give it all a quick stir; add more ice to nearly reach the brim if the ice settled too much. Rub at least two mint sprigs in your hands to start to release the scent; place them stem down in the cocktail. Add a straw and snip off to the level that your nose will be next to the mint. Give it a moment to chill the glass and enjoy!

In our first installment, I mentioned that people who know how to make a julep are confident that they know THE way to make a julep. I was no different- I had my method and expected to be underwhelmed but maybe intrigued by the novelty of these early recipes. Nothing could have been further from the truth- combining Cognac and rye would have never crossed my mind and calling it a “mint julep” would have registered as blasphemy. But this recipe, along with the others, is a complete experience in a cup and worthy of the noble title it bears. Hope you enjoy exploring along with us!

Brian Makes Mint Juleps: The Henry Clay

Program Director Brian Cushing finally makes a mint julep with bourbon, based on a recipe from Henry Clay. Take it away, Brian! 

After two installments of historic mint julep recipes with not a single drop of Bourbon poured, we will be rescued here briefly by the man known as “The Great Compromiser,” Mr. Henry Clay of Kentucky, himself. Mr. Clay wrote down his recipe for the mint julep in the 1840s, now in the collection of the University of Kentucky, and if not the first documented mint julep known to be made with Bourbon, it is certainly one of the very earliest. Mr. Clay wrote:

“The mint leaves, fresh and tender, should be pressed against a coin-silver goblet with the back of a silver spoon. Only bruise the leaves gently and then remove them from the goblet. Half fill with cracked ice. Mellow bourbon, aged in oaken barrels, is poured from the jigger and allowed to slide slowly through the cracked ice.

In another receptacle, granulated sugar is slowly mixed into chilled limestone water to make a silvery mixture as smooth as some rare Egyptian oil, then poured on top of the ice. While beads of moisture gather on the burnished exterior of the silver goblet, garnish the brim of the goblet with the choicest sprigs of mint.”

Bourbon is documented to have been recognized as its own category of whiskey during the 1820s so it had time to establish itself by the time Clay wrote down his recipe. It would not be until 1964 that Congress passed the legal definition that governs what can be called Bourbon now so this was a cultural consensus vs. a legal definition.

We may never know exactly what Clay’s preferred Bourbon tasted like but, personally, I prefer Old Bardstown Bottled in Bond (white label, 100 proof) for a mint julep. You can use whatever Bourbon you like best or happen to have on hand. To recreate this recipe, you will need:

  • A silver, silver plate, or otherwise metal cup
  • A few sprigs of mint
  • Crushed ice
  • 2 oz. Bourbon
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp. cold water
  • Straw

Remove the leaves from one of your mint stalks. Use the back of a spoon to bruise them on the inside of your cup. Discard the leaves. Fill your cup 1/2-3/4 full of the crushed ice. Pour in the Bourbon (no need to mix). In a separate cup combine and mix the sugar and water. (Do not substitute simple syrup here- it will not deliver the same effect.) The sugar will likely not completely dissolve in the cold water so just get it good and mixed, keep it moving, and pour it into the julep quickly before it has a chance to settle. Again- no need to mix. Take a mint sprig or two, rub them in your hands to release the scent, and place stalk down in the beverage. Place a straw next to the mint and clip off so that your nose will be near the mint as you sip.

While Bourbon may have been decades away from being embraced as the standard spirit of the mint julep, this very much falls into the image that we have of them today and is possibly the best I have ever had. The lack of compounding of the ingredients is what really makes it. Everything just settles down through the ice and casually mingles as the cup takes on its refreshing frost and you experience the full character of each ingredient for what it is while they complement each other without becoming lost.