A Quick Julep Break
Copyright 2003 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. For more information go to wineloverspage.com.
Once in a great while, this column takes a rare detour from wine for a change-of-pace taste of other libations. And there's no better time for such a break than this joyous springtime season when my home town, Louisville, replica jaeger-lecoultre watches puts on its party clothes to celebrate the Kentucky Derby.
Accordingly, prompted by a tasting-and-media-event in which I served as a judge last week, I hope you'll indulge me in a quick dissertation on the mint julep, a historic drink with a deep Kentucky connection.
Legend has it that Bourbon whiskey was invented in the late 1700s by a Baptist minister named Elijah Craig (whose name is still enshrined in the name of a popular brand); but in fact Craig was only one of many thirsty settlers who brought whiskey recipes with them from the East and produced potent liquor from the region's plentiful corn crop and sweet limestone water, top replica bags storing it in sturdy barrels made from Kentucky oak trees. (As a matter of historical trivia, Craig didn't even live in Bourbon County, although his home was in the same rolling meadow region called the Bluegrass.)
Modern Bourbon is distilled from a mix of grains that must include at least 51 percent corn (the rest may include rye, wheat and/or barley), and it is stored for at least two years in new, charred oak barrels that add to its distinctive sweet-caramel flavor. Since the barrels may be used only once, many of them are sold after use to distillers in Canada and even Scotland, where the natives make a well-regarded liquor of their own. (And to the dismay of many Kentuckians, who must feel much as do wine makers in Champagne who object to lesser brews bearing the local name, the law does not limit the name "Bourbon" to Kentucky-made liquor.)
So what's a julep? The name goes back through Chaucer's English (where it meant "sugar syrup") and old French and Latin to the ancient Persian word "Gulab," which means "rose water." Variations of the name have been attached to sweetened alcoholic tipples in Britain, France Replica Designer Handbags and the U.S., but the modern "mint julep" has become a symbol of the Southern U.S. and specifically Kentucky.
As with any old tradition, you'll find dozens of variations, most claiming to be the original. To make a long story short, the mint julep is a strong drink made with straight Bourbon (and plenty of it) flavored with sugar or sugar syrup and scented with fresh mint, served from a glass (or, most traditionally, a silver cup shaped a bit like a short tumbler) over plenty of cracked ice.
A commercial version is sold at Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, in a tall souvenir glass imprinted with the names of all the Derby winners since 1875, an item that is updated annually replica handbags shop and has become a collector's item itself.
Louisville television station WHAS-11 recently assembled a small group of purported experts, including your humble scribe, for a mint julep tasting hosted by Brown-Forman Corp., an old Louisville distiller that has grown into an international beverages conglomerate (with, coincidentally, a significant presence in the wine industry).
Chris Morris, Brown-Forman's Bourbon expert, who will assume the company's Master Distiller post next year, put together five samples including such modern affectations as "The Jocuse" (a thoroughly non-traditional mix of Bourbon flavored with a splash of creme de menthe, lime juice and sparkling water) and the appalling "Mintini," Swiss Replica Watches a fluorescent green drink featuring Bourbon, green creme de menthe and sugar, shaken, not stirred, with ice and strained into a Martini glass garnished with a mint leaf.
Better, for my tastes anyway, was the recipe created by Henry Watterson, World War I era publisher of The Louisville Courier-Journal, who advocated carefully assembling the finest mint, sugar, ice and other fixings and then discarding them to enjoy the Bourbon alone. This procedure worked quite well using Woodford Reserve, a Bourbon produced at Brown-Forman's Labrot & Graham Distillery.
For a once-a-year julep treat, though, Morris's traditional recipe won my top rating: Put a few fresh mint leaves in the bottom of a glass or julep cup with a teaspoon of confectioner's sugar (not granulated sugar) and just enough water to dissolve the sugar. Mash (or "muddle") this brew with a wooden spoon handle, then fill the glass with crushed ice and pour in 2 1/2 ounces of Bourbon. Pack in more crushed ice ("just like making a snow cone," Morris joked), garnish with several sprigs of mint, and insert a straw cut short enough that you have to put your nose in the mint to reach it. Sip slowly from the bottom, Fake Handbags so the straw pulls the Bourbon through the mint-and-sugar mix, and plan to contemplate it for at least an hour ... perhaps the late-afternoon hour on the first Saturday in May when the Derby is on the air.
Visit Labrot & Graham, a small, historic distillery that Brown-Forman restored and reopened recently.