By Summer Stanley
At long last, springtime in Virginia comes breezing in through open windows, riding on the scent of azaleas, magnolias, peonies and honeysuckle, and I find myself craving the kind of southern comfort that most would associate with derby fever. However, for me, Mint Juleps are warm weather refreshments to be enjoyed long after the “run for the roses” is over.
The Mint Julep has been the traditional beverage of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby since 1938 when they started selling the cocktail in signature glasses for 75 cents each. Not surprisingly, it’s also the official cocktail of the Virginia Gold Cup. Virginia, after all, gets some credit for the earliest printed references of Mint Juleps. In his book, Travels of Four Years and a Half in the United States of America, British traveler John Davis mentions drinking them at a Northern Virginia plantation in the early 19th century.
Originally, a Julep was known for being any sweet and syrupy drink, often used as a vehicle for medicine. In the early days, it was likely made with rye whiskey or rum, and it wasn’t until the 20th century that Kentucky, proud of its bourbon, popularized it in the traditional recipe we know today: sugar, water, bourbon, fresh mint leaves and crushed ice.
Though sometimes served in a highball glass or even a pewter stirrup cup, you’ll most often find the drink served in a sterling silver julep cup, which in itself is a symbol of southern hospitality and makes for an appropriate gift on many occasions. The cups can be engraved with monograms or special sentiments, used for floral arrangements and centerpieces, and add instant class to a vanity or desk.
If you’re like me and can’t get enough of all things mint julep, there are plenty of ways to get your fix. I’ll bet on it!
Where to hunt in Middleburg this weekend:
- Goodstone Inn & Restaurant in Middleburg has won many awards for its Virginia fine dining. The Restaurant at Goodstone features state-of-the-art, seasonally inspired cuisine with a farm-to-table emphasis. One of their specialty drinks happens to be the Mint Julep, and they have shared that recipe on their web site so you can create this refreshing cocktail at home, too. (Recipe below)
- Join Salamander Resort & Spa on the terrace on May 7th from 3-7 pm as they celebrate with a Kentucky Derby event. You can sip Mint Juleps, delight in derby bite size fair, listen to live music, and experience “the most exciting two minutes in sports.” ($20/pp, Mint Julep bar and service bar are a la carte)
Where to hunt for julep cups:
- Horse Country Saddlery, 60 Alexandria Pike, Warrenton, VA; (540) 347-3141
- The Hour Shop, 1015 King Street, Alexandria, VA; (703) 224-4687
Goodstone’s Mint Julep Specialty Cocktail
2 cups water
2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh mint leaves
32 fluid ounces Kentucky bourbon
8 sprigs fresh mint leaves for garnish
1. Combine water, sugar and chopped mint leaves in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Allow syrup to cool approximately 1 hour. Pour syrup through a strainer to remove mint leaves.
2. Fill eight cups or frozen goblets with crushed ice and pour 4 ounces of bourbon and 1/4 cup mint syrup in each. (Proportions can be adjusted depending on each person’s sweet tooth). Top each cup with a mint sprig and a straw. Trim straws to just barely protrude from the top of the cups. Serve juleps on a silver platter.