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Drinks Decoded: Mint Julep

In this series, we take a closer look at well-known cocktails. We get to know the history behind classic drinks as well as where you can find them in the DMV area. This week’s Drinks Decoded takes on the Mint Julep.

The Basics
A southern favorite, the Mint Julep is typically made with bourbon, water, sugar, crushed or shaved ice, and garnished with a sprig of mint (although there is some controversy over whether the mint should be muddled instead). They are traditionally served in silver or pewter Julep cups and should be handled by the bottom or edges of the cup, allowing for frost and condensation to develop on the cup's exterior. Mint Juleps can also be made with gin (and have also been made with rum or brandy in the past), however, bourbon-based Juleps have become the better-known and more popular version.

The Backstory
The word Julep is derived from a Persian word meaning “rose water” and was typically used as a sweet drink for imbibing medicines in the 1700’s. As such, Mint Juleps were actually prescribed for stomach aches in the 18th century in addition to being a fortified  breakfast drink. Most people have come to recognize the Mint Julep as the cocktail of the Kentucky Derby. In 1875, Churchill Downs officially opened and soon after began serving up the drink. The Julep became so popular it was named the track’s signature drink in 1938. Today, about 120,000 Juleps are drunk over the course of the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby. Henry Clay, US Senator and Kentucky statesman, first introduced the Mint Julep to Washington, DC in the 1800’s at the Willard Hotel (now the Willard InterContinental) and where the Round Robin Bar continues to serve up Clay’s own recipe for Juleps.

The Bars
Teddy & the Bully Bar 
The folks behind Teddy and the Bully Bar put a little twist on the classic cocktail by offering a Strawberry Mint Julep made with Woodford Mint Infused Bourbon, strawberry shrub and mint. (1200 19th St., NW; 202-872-8700)

If you’re specifically searching for Mint Juleps in DC, look no further than the Round Robin Bar in the Willard InterContinental. The aforementioned bar is where the drink was first introduced to DC and where current bartender Jim Hewes stays true to Clay’s roots by mixing up the Senator’s original recipe. (1401 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-628-9100)
 
Peruse the Classic Cocktail list at speakeasy-esque bar Denson, and you’ll find a Mint Julep made with bourbon, peach, and simple syrup. (600 F St., NW; 202-499-5018)
 
Top photo by The Drink Nation; Bottom photo via Teddy & the Bully Bar

 

 


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