Southern Comfort

May 11, 2010

Today, guest blogger Tori helps us all to get a little tipsy:

Though I am a novice and a Yankee, and certainly no gentleman, on this most recent Kentucky Derby day, I endeavored to concoct the perfect mint julep, or, as it is known in some circles, the quintessence of gentlemanly beverages.

When I set out on this journey, I didn’t just plunge headlong into a boozy haze of cheap bourbon and peppermint extract. That would be simply uncivilized. Instead, I turned to my grand old companion, the internet, for some serious research. This is where I came across the Buckner Mint Julep Ceremony, which – like a properly prepared cocktail – is a thing of pure joy and wonder. As the (much abridged) story goes, in 1935, Lieutenant Colonel Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr. was tasked with mixing and serving mint juleps at a reception for President Roosevelt and his entourage. Two years later, when his recipe was requested for another soiree, Buckner responded with an eloquently worded letter that described what came to be known as The Buckner Ceremony. Excerpts include:

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… 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….

The Ceremony continues on in similar fashion for a few more paragraphs. and I think it is safe to say that it is one of the great moments in American literary and mixological (sure) history. It really is something special, and the entire thing can – and should – be read here (http://www.thebucknerhome.com/julep/recipe.html).

Now, considering that I live in Brooklyn and the nearest bubbly spring is the Gowanus Canal, as much as I admired Buckner’s ceremony, I had to find an alternate recipe. I scoured the web, from Miss Martha to the Food Network and beyond, and ended up cobbling together a recipe that – if I do say so myself – turned out splendidly, and which I will share with you now. This recipe yielded about…oh, 30 or so juleps, which I made over the course of a Derby party for several friends.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (at least) fresh mint leaves
  • 2 cups water, heated to just boiling
  • 2 cups sugar
  • lots of crushed ice
  • Kentucky bourbon (I recommend Bulleit)

Preparation:

First, make mint syrup:
Heat water to boiling. Whisk in sugar and heat it until dissolved. Remove from heat. Add ¼ cup of mint and let the mixture steep for 30 minutes to an hour. Remove leaves and allow to cool (I stuck mine in the fridge for a while).

For each Mint Julep:
Crush a bunch of ice in the blender. In a 10 ounce glass, tear up 1 or 2 mint leaves. Add 2½ teaspoons of syrup. Stir it up and slightly muddle the mint. Fill the glass 3/4 full with crushed ice. Add 1½  ounces of bourbon. Top with a bit more syrup to taste. Stir lightly and garnish with a few more mint leaves.

Alternately, if you’re just making one or two and don’t want to make a ton of syrup, you can instead mix 2 tsp of sugar and 2 T of water in your glass (with mint leaves, of course). But I recommend the syrup. (Go big or go home, that’s what Secretariat always said.)

Et voila! It is worth noting that these babies, especially when first mixed, before any ice melts, are STRONG. But they are also TASTY. This is of course a potentially disastrous combination. In fact, legend has it that at the fabled reception for Roosevelt, a waiter approached Buckner and said, “Sir, Colonel, the President wants another drink, but I don’t think he oughta!” So just let them hang out for a minute or so and they’ll dilute a little.

So, at the end of my journey to the julep, I found myself at an important conclusion. Traditionally, the cocktail is viewed as a once-a-year, only-on-Derby-day kind of thing, to be filed with old adages such as “no white after Labor Day” and “a lady never shows her bloomers to the mailman, unless the mailman is withholding her Publishers Clearing House letter.” To that, I add another bygone bon mot: “Rubbish!” While there are many julep-related traditions that I admire, and one ceremony in particular that I salute, I must make the following thoroughly modern declaration: to the devil with designating a single day for the mint julep! It is a delicious, refreshing – albeit possibly dangerous – concoction that should be imbibed throughout the summer, preferably in a backyard with good friends and family. Enjoy!

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