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A Brief History of the Mint Julep

Updated: May 30, 2023


Ah, the mint julep. It's not just a drink, it's a part of American history! The word "julep" actually comes from the Spanish "julepe", which means rosewater. English juleps were medicinal, which sounds way less fun than what we know today.


The mint julep we know and love today was born in the southern United States, probably in the 18th century. The earliest mentions of it come from a satirical play by Robert Munford, where a drunkard character called "Mr. Julip" appears. Ah, Mr. Julip, the hero we never knew we needed!

Even back then, people were prescribing mint juleps for all sorts of things. In 1784, a doctor wrote that he prescribed a mint julep for someone with a "sickness at the stomach". Hey, I don't feel so good, maybe I need a mint julep prescription too!


U.S. Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky was a big fan of the mint julep and even introduced it to Washington, D.C. at the Round Robin Bar in the famous Willard Hotel. The drink became so popular that Americans enjoyed not only bourbon-based juleps but also gin-based juleps made with genever, an aged gin.


By 1820, the julep was a legacy in Virginia and had been adopted as an item of local identity. Jasper Crouch from Richmond was known as the first acknowledged master of mint juleps. He identified himself as a Free Person of Color, which just goes to show that even back then, anyone could enjoy a refreshing mint julep.

John daney- Creator of the Julep a la Dabney
John Dabney- Creator of the Julep a la Dabney

It would be in 1942 that the julep would find its most famous variation that is still utilized today. John Dabney, a local and enslaved bartender, created the Julep a la Dabney that would touch the lips of visiting politicians and royalty during this city’s darkest era and became a tool of Richmond diplomacy.



In 1916, the traditional Virginia recipe as served at the "Old White" was described as being made with the purest French brandy, limestone water, old-fashioned cut loaf sugar, crushed ice, and young mint. It's amazing to think how this classic drink has evolved over the years.

So there you have it, the history of the mint julep! It's come a long way from its medicinal roots to being a refreshing cocktail enjoyed by people all over the world. Next time you're sipping on a mint julep, take a moment to appreciate the history behind it. And hey, if anyone asks why you're drinking a mint julep, just tell them it's doctor's orders!


 

Traditional Mint Julep Cocktail
Traditional Mint Julep

Traditional Mint Julep


Ingredients:

  • 2.0 oz bourbon

  • 4 mint leaves

  • 1 teaspoon powdered sugar

  • 2 teaspoons water



Steps:

  1. In a highball glass gently muddle the mint, sugar and water. Fill the glass with cracked ice, add Bourbon.

  2. Stir well until the glass is well frosted.

  3. Garnish with a mint sprig.










Julep a la dabney shot by Alexi F.
Julep a la Debney

Julep a la Dabney


Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp pulverized granulated sugar

  • 3 tbsp cold water

  • 4 sprigs mint, to muddle

  • 3 oz peach or apple brandy, cognac, rum, or bourbon

  • Crushed ice, to fill the cup

  • Berries and small pieces of fruit, for garnish

  • 4 sprigs mint, for garnish

  • Edible flowers, for garnish (optional)






Steps:

  1. Create the julep base by muddling the pulverized sugar, water, and mint together at the bottom of a chilled silver or metal julep or a double old fashioned glass. Muddle just enough to extract the oils from the mint, then remove the mint sprigs from the cup and discard them.

  2. Add in the brandy (or cognac, bourbon, rum, or mix of them) and stir well.

  3. Pour in the crushed ice until it domes over the cup.

  4. Garnish the ice with fruits and flowers. Bury the stems of the mint into the ice to create a bouquet.

  5. Serve with a straw.

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