Sour Mash Manifesto

Bourbon and American Whiskey

Ode to the Mint Julep

Would it surprise you if one of my favorite pieces of literature was written about whiskey? Or more specifically about the great Mint Julep? Probably not, and hopefully after reading it you will understand why. For those that have seen it already, I do apologize. It has made the rounds in recent years, brought to the fore by Chris McMillian, a New Orleans Bartender (and drinking historian) at Bar Uncommon. If you visit there while Chris is working, you might be able to coax him into reciting this gem as he crafts a handmade Mint Julep for you.

This bit of prose published in the Lexington Herald in the late 1800’s, was written by Lexington, KY journalist and judge Joshua Soule Smith. Hopefully it will strike a chord with you as it did me. It’s Kentucky Derby week and it’s time to talk about that Southern Institution – The Mint Julep.

The Mint Julep by Joshua Soule Smith

Then comes the zenith of man’s pleasure. Then comes the julep – the mint julep. Who has not tasted one has lived in vain. The honey of Hymettus brought no such solace to the soul; the nectar of the Gods is tame beside it. It is the very dream of drinks, the vision of sweet quaffings.

The Bourbon and the mint are lovers. In the same land they live, on the same food they are fostered. The mint dips infant leaf into the same stream that makes The Bourbon what it is. The corn grows in the level lands through which small streams meander. By the brook-side the mint grows. As the little wavelets pass, they glide up to kiss the feet of the growing mint, and the mint bends to salute them. Gracious and kind it is, living only for the sake of others. Like a woman’s heart it gives its sweetest aroma when bruised. Among the first to greet the spring, it comes. Beside gurgling brooks that make music in the fields, it lives and thrives. When the bluegrass begins to shoot its gentle sprays towards the sun, mint comes, and its sweetest soul drinks at the crystal brook. It is virgin then. But soon it must be married to old Bourbon. His great heart, his warmth of temperament, and that affinity which no one understands, demands the wedding.

How shall it be? Take from the cold spring some water, pure as angels are; mix it with sugar till it seems like oil. Then take a glass and crush your mint within it with a spoon – crush it around the borders of the glass and leave no place untouched. Then throw the mint away – it is the sacrifice. Fill with cracked ice the glass; pour in the quantity of Bourbon which you want. It trickles slowly through the ice. Let it have time to cool, then pour your sugared water over it. No spoon is needed; no stirring allowed- just let it stand a moment. Then around the brim place sprigs of mint, so that the one who drinks may find the taste and odor at one draft.

Then when it is made, sip it slowly. August suns are shining, the breath of the south wind is upon you. It is fragrant cold and sweet – it is seductive. No maidens kiss is tenderer or more refreshing, no maidens touch could be more passionate. Sip it and dream-it is a dream itself. No other land can give you so much sweet solace for your cares; no other liquor soothes you in melancholy days. Sip it and say there is no solace for the soul, no tonic for the body like old Bourbon whiskey.

Drink your Bourbon!



  1. Watching Chris mix a Julep and do this recitation on YouTube is one of the most impressive drink rituals I’ve ever seen. I’ll be drinking one this Saturday, for sure. Too bad the weather here has been so uncooperative this spring, or I’d be able to pick some fresh wild mint from my own stream!

  2. I love a good julep and am looking forward to your next posts on the julep. When I first found Chris McMillian on YouTube I watched his entire series straight through, then I did it again a few days later. Still, when making a classic cocktail, the first thing I do is see if there is a McMillian video…he’s just that awesome.

  3. The soul of a poet! Cannot wait to see how you make your Mint Julep! We have our own concoction of mint simple syrup “aging” in the fridge right now. Ahhh Kentucky Derby Week!

  4. Sam, watching Chris whip up a Mint Julep is something else.

    Steve, I do the same thing when I need a good classic. The man knows what he’s doing and it’s a great place to start.

    As for my Mint Julep recipe, it’s really pretty simple with but a few tweaks. Joyce I use a simple syrup that I’ve steeped some mint into also. Anything to help carry that flavor. It’s subtle but it’s like building a great dish – you season and build flavors with each addition.

  5. Well I hate to say it but I have never had a Mint Julep. Texas (at least the eastern half) is very Southern, but that is one tradition that just did not get that popular here. I will have to try it someday..

  6. Oh Texas, man oh man. You’re breaking my heart. Does ice cold slightly sweetened bourbon, and a fragrant swath of mint in you nose sound good? Do me a favor and make one this weekend, it’s simple – very straight forward and I think you will be a convert. Then next thing you know you’re spreading the Mint Julep gospel all across Texas.

  7. I figured it would pain you to hear that! They have always sounded great to me, but in general I just have always liked things unadulterated except for ice at times. I love mint, and I love bourbon so how could I go wrong? Out of bourbon though, and the budget says I will have to wait a couple of weeks, but I promise then! Just to make it a true Texas Mint Julep, it will Weller 12 year as the bourbon!

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