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Julep time

Thanks to the spring rains, mint is coming along well in the back yard, a reminder that it’s time to lay in supplies for Derby Day. (Or rather for you to lay in supplies, because I will be producing night content at the paragraph factory that day two weeks hence.) To assist you, I once again offer advice about making mint juleps.

First, make sure you have some decent bourbon. The cheap stuff is too raw, and you probably don’t want to use your $60 Booker’s for this. Maker’s Mark should answer, or Woodford Reserve if you’re feeling flush. On no account use any of that ersatz bourbon from Tennessee.

Traditionalists to the manner born use silver cups. Among us plebs, a good squat glass with a solid bottom will do nicely.

Harvest your mint, rinse it, and pat it dry with paper towels. Put about a teaspoon of sugar in a glass and mix it with just enough water to dissolve it. Then add a few mint leaves and muddle them thoroughly. If your equipment lacks a muddler, the handle of a crab mallet will do the job.

The ice is important. It should be cracked ice. Crushed ice will melt too quickly and produce a weak and watery julep. Ice cubes will not produce the correct balance. Take some ice cubes, put them in a plastic bag and wrap it in a kitchen towel, and whale away at it with a rolling pin.

Fill the glass with cracked ice and pour bourbon over it until the ice is covered. Garnish with a mint leaf. Sip. Reflect that life is good and give thanks to the Baptist clergy for their two great achievements: the separation of church and state, and bourbon whiskey.

One last thing: When the band plays “My Old Kentucky Home,” shut your mouth and stand respectfully.

Then you can do as you like.



Posted by John McIntyre at 9:31 AM | | Comments (11)


Wale? I was about to write sternly that it should be 'whale,' but I thought I might check M-W first. Wale as a noun can mean welt, and as a verb it can mean to inflict welts. To whale, on the other hand, is to give a walloping (etymology unknown). So unless you Kentuckians are unusually delicate in your ice-cracking techniques, I think whale is better.

In any case, bottoms up!

For those of us without rolling pins, a hammer works too.

Wale was a typo. Fixed.

Loved that catchy ditty by the late, slightly creepy falsetto-voiced crooner Tiny Tim, namely, "Tiptoe Thru the Juleps". HA!

Not nearly as memorable as "My Old Kentucky Home", I grant you. And....... they're off!

But seriously folks, I happened to find, online, a delightful March 30, '37 eloquent dispatch penned by one Lt. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr. to one Major Gerneral Wm. D. Connor--- -superintendent of the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, describing in loving detail his preferred step-by-step, "Mint Julep Ritual". IMHO, Buckner's colorfully descriptive prose almost rises to sheer poetry----his enthusiasm for the Southern-born, aromatic elixir, and its much-storied tradition coming to the fore.

Here's Buckner's letter, below:



Way too much work. Sniff the mint as you swig from the bottle. Skip the sugar. It's bad for you.

I like "My Old Kentucky Home," as well as "Maryland, My Maryland." New York used to have "In Old New York" which was only about New York City and has given way to "New York New York." Pity. And it isn't separation of church and state: it's the establishment clause. How many times?

"to the manner born" ?

tsk ;)

I'll let the slight to Tennessee Sour Mash pass.

Yes, Patricia, it is 'to the manner born', manner meaning custom.

I don't know who brought up "to the manner born," but I know perfectly well what it means. Anyway, someone else's sobriquet is affixed to it. Careful, CLT47. (Is that a regiment or a fighter plane?)

My apologies, Patricia, if I misread which name went with which comment.

Thank you for the recipe! My husband is from Kentucky and we both enjoy a good mint julep -- but most served in bars and restaurants outside of Kentucky are horrendous. This year, we'll make our own. We even have proper julep cups, courtesy of his mother.

On another note: I was told (by the proprietor of a small bourbon distillery) that anything produced outside of Kentucky is simply whiskey -- not bourbon. So I had assumed it was like champagne or Vidalia onions. Either way, we'll stick to Kentucky bourbons.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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