History of the Mint Julep

When we started our series on the Journey to the Kentucky Derby, the first thing that came to mind was Bourbon, the second was a Mint Julep and the third was a Mint Julep from Julep, the namesake bar on Washington Ave. founded by veteran bartender Alba Huerta in 2014.

First Impressions Abound

Walking in Julep on a Thursday afternoon before opening, it only took a few looks around to tell this wasn't your average bar. The decor was ornate, the copper bar top impressed and a bronzed statute reigned over a sea of crushed ice. It was immediately clear I was in the right place.

Class is in Session

Manager Kenny Freeman, a 4 year veteran of Julep, served as my guide and dropped some gems on the history of the Mint Julep. The now famous, but not quite ubiquitous, cocktail was derived from the practice of distilling essences such as rose water to create perfumes and beverages that weren't necessarily of the alcoholic variety (we're thankful for evolution).

The Mint Julep took on its modern form in the post-colonial American South but it didn't always call for Bourbon in the beginning. Many farmers in those days would distill surplus grains as a way of converting them into something less perishable (and more fun to consume). If that farmer distilled rye, rye was the base. If that farmer distilled get the point. These spirits would do the trick but were rough on taste, so muddled mint and sugar was added.

I Told You This Was Going to be Classy

The Mint Julep incorporated two items that clearly communicated in those days that this was no middle of the mall beverage: ice and a metal cup. Refrigeration was non-existent at the time so ice was a luxury that was shipped down the Mississippi River. The metal cup could be made of any available metal but showing off was a priority. A sprig of mint and some powdered sugar were added for garnish.

Kenny 1Kenny 2Kenny 3
Kenny Freeman of Julep Makes their Classic Mint Julep

Pro Tips

  • Switch out store bought simple syrup for a homemade blend of water and turbinado raw sugar warmed, and periodically stirred, over low heat for an hour.
  • The length of the straw should strategically place your nose close to the mint and powdered sugar to enjoy the aroma with each sip.
  •  Opt for glass or metal straws if you have them (take fancy to the next level and simultaneously save the planet).

 If you would like to learn more about the history of the Mint Julep and some great recipes, check out the book Julep by Alba Huerta & Marah Stets.  

Julep is located at 1919 Washington Ave. in Houston, Texas and is open Sunday to Thursday from 4pm to 2am and Friday & Saturday from 3pm to 2am.

Our Journey to the Kentucky Derby is a celebration of all things Kentucky Derby including Bourbon, fashion and classic mustaches as we count down to the 144th Running of the Fastest Two Minutes in Sports.

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