The History of Julep Cocktails And Their Ancient Origins
The history of the Julep goes all the way back to ancient Persia (modern day Iran). Rosewater was thought to have health benefits and the word for rosewater in old Persian is gulab (gul=rose, ab=water). Gulab slowly made it way to the surrounding Arabic cultures and over time the word Gulab changed to Julāb and it was used to describe any kind of sweetened medicinal syrup. Julābs eventually made their way to western Europe an in England and syrupy medicines are called Julaps or Julapums. By the mid 1700s there were all kinds or julaps. Rose water julap was called Julapum Rosatum and used for treating Heart issues, Julapum tabaci was tobacco infused syrup for treating asthma, Julapum sedativum was opium syrup, and Julapum Stomachicum was a mint infused syrup used to settle upset tummies. I found many kinds of other Julapums but this is good enough. Also most of what I found was written in latin and google translate can only do so much. A medical journal I found online from the 1750s calls for a Julapum Stomachicum to be a peppermint infused sweetener mixed with sherry. What we today consider a mint julep emerges around the early 1800s. The British 1827 home medical book Oxford Night Caps refers to a mint julap as a mint syrup mixed with brandy that a parent can make to ease the upset tummy of a child.
With it’s unique drinking culture, the mint julep ended up taking on a different identity in the United States. Mint juleps were dressed up and made fancy for saloon patrons looking to get buzzed. The oldest printed recipe of this saloon style julep comes Jerry Thomas’s 1862 edition of The Bar Tenders Guide and the recipe is: 1 table-spoonful of white pulverized sugar. 2 1/2 table-spoonfuls of Water, mix well with a spoon. 3 or 4 sprigs of fresh mint. 1 1/2 wine glass Cognac brandy, dash with Jamaica rum and sprinkle white sugar on top. Jerry Thomas also has recipes for a gin julep, whiskey julep, and a pineapple julep which is a pineapple syrup and gin cocktail.
The mint julep stays a brandy cocktail for a very long time and most bartenders and recipe books copy Jerry Thomas till around the late 1800s. Books in the late 1880s mention how the once loved julep had fallen in favor to other more complex cocktails and is typically something only the older men order. It is also around this time that the mint julep recipe replaces brandy for bourbon. The first instance of this is in the 1888 book Bartender’s Manual by Theodore Proulx where he has his recipe for a mint julep that uses bourbon instead of brandy. Whether this change is accidental or intentional it figures it would happen when the cocktail begins to fade from bartender’s repertoire. As decades passed the mint julep and whiskey julep merged till it just became standard to make a mint julep with whiskey.
Mint Julep Variations
This is the original version of a classic mint julep. Had you ordered a mint julep in the 1800s you would be given this cocktail instead of the whiskey variation most common made today. The most common variation of the mint julep made today is what we would actually consider a whiskey julep. Jerry Thomas had recipes for a gin julep, whiskey Julep, pineapple julep and a plain brandy julep. Harry Johnson added the Champagne Julep too in his 1882 book Harry Johnson’s Bartender’s Manual. An 1885 book called New guide for the hotel, bar, restaurant, butler, and chef by someone named Bacchus has 9 different Julep recipes. Granted they are not worth listing here as they are all kinda lousy.
The Most Important Ingredient
I personally feel the most important part of any julep is the crushed or shaved ice you will pack the cup with. This cocktail should have the spirit of a snow cone that taste of sweet mint and booze and the ice should be rounded over the rim. Otherwise it comes across as an old fashioned if you don’t pack the cup with ice and the julep should be more of a refreshing hot daytime summer drink and not a smoky old nighttime bar drink.