May is the month of the Kentucky Derby and so what could be a better choice for this month’s featured James Bond drink, but the Mint Julep? This mix of bourbon, mint and sugar doesn’t actually feature in the books, but it does appear in the film Goldfinger.
Traditionally, this is the cocktail of Kentucky (which is also home of Fort Knox), but the word “julep” probably comes from the Persian word “Guleb”, meaning “rosewater”. The drink was originally designed to hide the taste of bitter medicine.
Bond is offered a Julep by Goldfinger whilst he is staying at the man’s Kentucky stud farm; Bond asks for “sour mash, not too sweet” and, in doing so, shows the watching Felix Leiter that he is being well looked after. With a great drink like this, Goldfinger certainly was treating him well.
With the possible exception of the Vesper in Casino Royale, I don’t think any drink in the film series plays such a integral part in a scene as the Mint Julep. In fact, I can’t drink one now without recalling Goldfinger’s tones explaining his plans for the Gold Depository and his “atomic device”.
Making a Mint Julep
The most important ingredient is the Bourbon and for this Bond specifies “sour mash”, which, rather than referring to any sourness of flavour in either the spirit or cocktail, instead refers to a process used in the making of the whiskey; examples made using this method include: Jim Beam, Jack Daniel’s, Wild Turkey and, my choice today, J.W. Dant.
Often, when making a Julep, a silver cup is used; this helps to keep the drink cold, but as Bond was given his in a glass, that is what I shall use. I recommend a tall, thin glass with a heavy base, as this will still help to keep the drink cold. For even better results, I suggest putting the glass in the freezer before use.
Take a tall glass and add 6-8 leaves of fresh mint.
Gently rub these around the inside of the glass using the end of a wooden spoon; this releases the oil in the leaves.
Discard the leaves and fill the glass with ice.
Add 2 tsp of sugar syrup.
Add 50ml of your choice of Bourbon.
Stir and garnish with a sprig of mint.
For a drink that consists primarily of bourbon whiskey, the Mint Julep is exceptionally smooth and, in my experience, many non-whisk(e)y drinkers still enjoy one of these. The sweetness comes through, as does the subtle hint of the mint; these minor tweaks of flavour, plus the chilling temperature of the drink, makes it exceptionally refreshing and delicious.
Although a Julep can be enjoyed year-round, it’s a great way to mark the Kentucky Derby and a perfect time to try one for the first time.
David T Smith runs the blog Summer Fruit Cup, looking at all things related to drink and drinking. Topics covered include tasting and reviews, cocktail history and vintage bar-ware.