‘behold this cordial julep’
May 2, 2011 1:20 pm
Updated: May 3, 2011 6:48 pm
How can it be May already? This year has a disturbing velocity behind it.
Also, for the last couple weeks or so the temperature in Seattle has been in the upper 40s, occasionally pinky toe-ing its way up into the low 50s. Always dark and rainy, it’s had the gloomy feel of mid-winter. Today, though, the sun broke out, and the temp
absolutely soared into the low 60s. I feel like I’ve snapped out of a deep winter slumber. It’s finally safe to start thinking about an icy mint julep again.
Of course, it’s only a few short days before the mint julep-friendly Kentucky Derby, which I will almost surely not be watching. I’ve missed upwards of forty consecutive races. But just the same, I will do my best to mix a proper julep for the occasion.
Inspired by the sun, I’ve been poking around into the julep’s long history. And I’ve found that references to “julep” go way, way back. The term “julep,” like the word “alcohol” itself, is Arabic in origin, and appears to mean non-alcoholic “rosewater.”
As far back as the 17th century, John Milton was committing poetic thoughts to paper about the (now alcoholic) julep:
See, here be all the pleasures
That fancy can beget on youthful thoughts
When the fresh blood grows lively and returns
Brisk as the April buds in primrose season
And first behold this cordial julep here
The flames and dances in his crystal bounds
With spirits of balm and fragrant syrups mixed
Milton’s would’ve been mintless. And also rosewater-less.
Of course, these early boozy juleps would not have taken Kentucky bourbon either, as there was none—no Kentucky, no bourbon, no Kentucky bourbon. These first juleps would’ve called for brandy, gin, and later, rum.
Jumping a century-and-a-half ahead, we finally find mint in the julep. There were earlier examples, but Ted Haugh, in his book
Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, provides a mint julep recipe that dates to 1839, named The Georgia Mint Julep*, which, along with mint, originally called for cognac and unsweetened
peach brandy in equal measure. No whiskey.
As the name and ingredients suggest, this drink has nothing to do with Kentucky or horse racing. Which is fine since my julep drinking has nothing to do with Kentucky horse racing either, except in so far as it offers a flimsy excuse to play along with a fun
cocktail tradition. At any rate, this recipe sounds like something worth trying.
However, as I will have approximately zero chance of tracking down unsweetened peach brandy before this coming weekend, I am giving serious thought to swapping out the cognac and peach brandy for Southern Comfort, a peach-flavored whiskey. (Actually, I’ll probably
swap out just the peach brandy and leave in the cognac.)
I’m not suggesting I’m inventing anything new here. As there is nothing new under a Georgian sun, I would not be the least surprised if this Southern Comfort julep is already a well-established cocktail (I’ll google it in a minute).
It's fair to say, I have not considered Southern Comfort, much less drank it, since college. In fact, the last time I drank Southern Comfort, I was sharing the better part of a pint with a real-life, perfectly peachy-keen Southern belle, who, after a couple
drinks from a paper cup, jumped up, grabbed a number 2 pencil and sketched the outline for a mural across my dorm-room wall. It was just about the highlight of my year. Although, unfortunately, she never came back to paint it all in. I cannot remember what
inspired her to draw on my wall like that or what it was she was depicting there, only that for the rest of the school year faint traces of pencil lines covered the better part of the wall. Soon after, she transferred to another school, though not on account
of any Southern Comfort-fueled mural sketching, I don’t think. And I'm sure it's only coincidence that I haven't sipped Southern Comfort since.
Okay, happy spring, people. I’ll report back on my julep making.
*The Georgia Mint Julep calls for about a dozen mint leaves, 1 teaspoon of simple syrup, 1.5 ounces Cognac, 1.5 ounces unsweetened peach brandy (if you're using a sweetened peach brandy, adjust the measurements to 2:1
Cognac to peach brandy). Put the mint leaves in the tumbler, add the sugar water, the brandies, and then lots of shaved or crushed ice.
Kim R, a real photographer, took this photo