ONCE UPON A TIME, we drank alcohol for our health. Back in the days of corsets and union suits, whenever a railroad baron turned poorly, he would go see the local barber-surgeon or apothecary and, no matter what was wrong, get a prescription for cocaine, heroin or alcohol.

One such “medicinal” drink that we in America still regularly use to feel better is the cool, crisp mint julep.

The term “julep” refers to any drink made with fresh herbs and sugar, and comes from the Persian/Hindi/Urdu word gulab or golab, referring to a rosewater drink sipped to refresh the body and mind or, in the case of mint juleps, to settle the stomach.

An old, distinctly American drink, the mint julep might first have been sipped by plantation owners in the 1700s, and even now it is inextricably intertwined with the South, bound up in images of gently melting ladies and white-suited gentlemen fanning themselves on steamy verandas.

And of course, the mint julep is the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. This makes sense — all those palpitating gamblers need something brisk to help them keep their lunch down. If you get lucky at the Derby, you can even treat yourself to a luxury $1,000 version that comes in a real sterling-silver cup.

There is a “right” way to hold the cup — from the top or the bottom, with just the tips of the fingers. This, apparently, is to allow the ice to cause frost on the sides of the metal, thereby keeping your beverage and yourself cool.


Mint Julep

Makes 1 drink

5-10 mint leaves

1 ounce simple syrup

2 ounces liquor

1. The key, with a mint julep, is to always use fresh mint, not mint-flavored simple syrup. Place mint leaves (go ahead and use 5 to 10 leaves per drink; mint is prolific) into a cocktail shaker, and muddle/crush them. Some recipes say to do this with a sugar cube, superfine sugar or powdered sugar, but I use regular simple syrup, about 1 ounce.

2. Add spirit. Quintessentially, mint juleps are made with Kentucky bourbon, but you can use regular American whiskey or rye in a pinch.

3. Add crushed ice to the cocktail shaker, maraca it around and pour over more crushed ice. Yes; this will slightly dilute your drink. That’s good. It’s a hot day. Hydrate.