Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Gentleman's Julep

This day found me in the liquor store, lingering in the bourbon aisle, checking out the field.

Predictably enough, the philistines were stocking up on mediocre bourbons and whiskeys, especially the horrid Maker's Mark pre-made "Mint Julep" in a bottle. Ugh. Ditto julep mixers, creme de menthe, etc. If you must have your yearly julep at this time of year just because it makes you feel all Derby-fied, please put a little effort into it. I hear so many people say they don't like Mint Juleps, but that's probably because they've never had one that wasn't made sloppily with crappy ingredients.

Consider the sacred recipe of a real Transylvania Gentleman, the one and only Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr. who passed along his Kentucky family recipe for the Mint Julep when a fellow General inquired of it:

"Your letter requesting my formula for mixing mint juleps leaves me in the same position in which Captain Barber found himself when asked how he was able to carve the image of an elephant from a block of wood. He replied that it was a simple process consisting merely of whittling off the part that didn't look like an elephant.

The preparation of the quintessence of gentlemanly beverages can be described only in like terms. A mint julep is not the product of a FORMULA. 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. It is a rite that must not be entrusted to a novice, a statistician, nor a Yankee. It is a heritage of the old South, an emblem of hospitality and a vehicle in which noble minds can travel together upon the flower-strewn paths of happy and congenial thought.

So far as the mere mechanics of the operation are concerned, the procedure, stripped of its ceremonial embellishments, can be described as follows:

Go to a spring where cool, crystal-clear water bubbles from under a bank of dew-washed ferns. In a consecrated vessel, dip up a little water at the source. Follow the stream through its banks of green moss and wildflowers until it broadens and trickles through beds of mint growing in aromatic profusion and waving softly in the summer breezes. Gather the sweetest and tenderest shoots and gently carry them home. Go to the sideboard and select a decanter of Kentucky Bourbon, distilled by a master hand, mellowed with age yet still vigorous and inspiring. An ancestral sugar bowl, a row of silver goblets, some spoons and some ice and you are ready to start.

In a canvas bag, pound twice as much ice as you think you will need. Make it fine as snow, keep it dry and do not allow it to degenerate into slush.

In each goblet, put a slightly heaping teaspoonful of granulated sugar, barely cover this with spring water and slightly bruise one mint leaf into this, leaving the spoon in the goblet. Then pour elixir from the decanter until the goblets are about one-fourth full. Fill the goblets with snowy ice, sprinkling in a small amount of sugar as you fill. Wipe the outsides of the goblets dry and embellish copiously with mint.

Then comes the important and delicate operation of frosting. By proper manipulation of the spoon, the ingredients are circulated and blended until Nature, wishing to take a further hand and add another of its beautiful phenomena, encrusts the whole in a glittering coat of white frost. Thus harmoniously blended by the deft touches of a skilled hand, you have a beverage eminently appropriate for honorable men and beautiful women.

When all is ready, assemble your guests on the porch or in the garden, where the aroma of the juleps will rise Heavenward and make the birds sing. Propose a worthy toast, raise the goblet to your lips, bury your nose in the mint, inhale a deep breath of its fragrance and sip the nectar of the gods.

Being overcome by thirst, I can write no further."

- - JSH

1 comment:

brine said...

It's true.

I was a hater of the mint julep until a doctor friend of mine showed me the way in 2005 upon my return to Louisville. Takes care and patience and real love to make an actual mint julep. The key is in the prep of the sugar and water. But it is indeed Kentucky Sweet Tea if done correctly. If done correctly it can also make you lose large amounts of memory and dance uncontrollably until kicking tables and chairs off a deck around 9pm.