American Plate - Bite #39: Mint Juleps

Tuesday, May 30, 2017
A lot of the foods and drinks in this project are things I couldn't wait to get to. Yay, I get to dive face-first into a bunch of pizza or sushi or barbecue! This is the first Bite (or Sip, really) that I was a little reluctant to get to. I'm in the minority on that one; most people have nothing but nice things to say about mint juleps. The word julep is from the Persian word gulab, which means "rose-water", but connotes any refreshing drink.

They're made by mixing mint, water, confectioners' sugar, crushed ice, and bourbon. Often associated with the Kentucky Derby, mint juleps are a popular drink all throughout the spring and early summer, and not just when watching the ponies. The first record of an iced mint cocktail in America is from 1803, but it didn't take long to become more widespread. By 1820, distillers had already standardized the sour mash process in places like Bourbon Country, Kentucky, which is where the liquor takes its name from (it certainly sounds better than "corn whiskey").

Over the course of the 19th century, an influx of Scottish and Irish immigrants brought their distilling knowledge with them, and whiskey eventually replaced rum as America's favorite liquor. It packed a punch, and could be distilled locally, which eliminated the need to import or smuggle booze. Though mint juleps started out as a Southern cocktail, Senator Henry Clay is credited with introducing it to the high society folks in Washington, DC. From there, it joined the ranks of elegant drinks nationwide.

So why my reluctance? Well, two reasons. I don't really drink a lot of bourbon and I don't really eat a lot of mint. Bourbon tends to hit me pretty hard, so I have to try and take it easy. Mint is an ingrained prejudice, but one I'm slowly getting over. I still detest sweet mint dessert flavoring, so I'm that lone voice in the wild that disdains Thin Mints, mint ice cream, Peppermint Patties, grasshopper milkshakes, etc.

Fresh mint, though, is a lot more enjoyable. I tend to like it the most in savory dishes, but on an evening when a springtime rainstorm had just swept through, and my friend asked me to pick some mint from his garden in order to make these drinks, how could I resist?

So, what was the verdict? They were actually very tasty! I doubt I'd be able to drink a bunch of them without getting completely blitzed, but kicking back with a couple of them to while away a pleasant spring evening with friends was the perfect reintroduction to a drink I hadn't given much of a chance before.