The classic cocktail of Kentucky, traditionally served virtually all over the state on the first Saturday in May at the running of the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, the mint julep actually predates the creation of its now prime ingredient, namely bourbon, which was not distilled until the late eighteenth century—not in Kentucky but in what was then Bourbon County, Virginia. Today, debate still rages in Kentucky over whether a mint julep must be served in a special frosted silver julep cup to maintain its icy integrity (I own six monogrammed such cups.) But the arguments really heat up when it comes to the question of whether the mint leaves should be crushed with sugar in the cups before the bourbon is added. All Southerners do agree that each drink must be made separately, that the ice must be shaved and never in chunks, and that the sides of the cups or glasses should never be touched once they’ve been frosted. Does the mint julep really live up to its reputation as the world’s most refreshing cocktail on a hot summer day? You bet it does.
In a silver julep cup or heavy Old Fashioned glass, place the mint leaves, sugar, and water, crush the leaves well with a pestle or heavy spoon, and stir till the sugar dissolves. Fill the glass with shaved ice, packing it down firmly, then add the bourbon and carefully mix the ice and whiskey together, cutting through the ice instead of stirring it. Wipe the outside of the glass with a clean towel and place in the freezer till it is frosted, about 15 minutes. Carefully remove the glass from the freezer to keep from wiping off the frost, garnish the drink with the mint sprig, and serve at once with a party straw.
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