From The Civil War
The Mint Julep, a distinctive
Southern drink, popular in the ante bellum South right up through modern
times, is a mixture of water, sugar, mint leaves and, above all, bourbon
whiskey. While it can be purchased today in modern drinking establishments in
the South, those served there bear little resemblance to those served in the
home. The serving of this elixir to family and guests on a hot summer
afternoon was, and is, accomplished with the greatest fanfare and flourish to
show respect for those receiving it. It is as much of a ceremony as it
is a drink.
The following is a copy of a letter
from Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr., USA [(VMI-1906, West
Point-1908) killed on Okinawa June 18, 1945] to Major General William D.
Connor, [Superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point]
dated March 30, 1937. Buckner Jr. was the grandson of General Simon Bolivar
Buckner of the Confederate army who surrendered Fort Donelson to General
Grant, thus giving Grant his nickname of "Unconditional Surrender"
Grant. This letter clearly demonstrates the esteem in which a "Mint
Julep" is held.
My Dear General Connor:
Your letter requesting my formula for mixing mint juleps leaves me in the same
position in which Captain Barber found himself when asked how he was able to
carve the image of an elephant from a block of wood. He said that it was a
simple process consisting merely of whittling off the part that didn't look like
The preparation of the quintessence
of gentlemanly beverages can be described only in like terms. A mint julep is
not a product of a formula. It is a ceremony and must be performed by a
gentleman possessing a true sense of the artistic, a deep reverence for the
ingredients and a proper appreciation of the occasion. It is a rite that must
not be entrusted to a novice, a statistician nor a Yankee. It is a heritage of
the Old South, and emblem of hospitality, and a vehicle in which noble minds can
travel together upon the flower-strewn paths of a happy and congenial thought.
So far as the mere mechanics of the
operation are concerned, the procedure, stripped of its ceremonial
embellishments, can be described as follows:
Go to a spring where cool,
crystal-clear water bubbles from under a bank of dew-washed ferns. In a
consecrated vessel, dip up a little water at the source. Follow the stream thru
its banks of green moss and wild flowers until it broadens and trickles thru
beds of mint growing in aromatic profusion and waving softly in the summer
breeze. Gather the sweetest and tenderest shoots and gently carry them home. Go
to the sideboard and select a decanter of Kentucky Bourbon distilled by a master
hand, mellowed with age, yet still vigorous and inspiring. An ancestral sugar
bowl, a row of silver goblets, some spoons and some ice and you are ready to
Into a canvas bag pound twice as much
ice as you think you will need. Make it fine as snow, keep it dry and do not
allow it to degenerate into slush. Into each goblet, put a slightly heaping
teaspoonful of granulated sugar, barely cover this with spring water and
slightly bruise one mint leaf into this, leaving the spoon in the goblet. Then
pour elixir from the decanter until the goblets are about one-fourth full. Fill
the goblets with snowy ice, sprinkling in a small amount of sugar as you fill.
Wipe the outside of the goblets dry, and embellish copiously with mint.
Then comes the delicate and important
operation of frosting. By proper manipulation of the spoon, the ingredients are
circulated and blended until nature, wishing to take a further hand and add
another of its beautiful phenomena, encrusts the whole in a glistening coat of
Thus harmoniously blended by the deft
touches of a skilled hand, you have a beverage eminently appropriate for
honorable men and beautiful women.
When all is ready, assemble your
guests on the porch or in the garden where the aroma of the juleps will rise
heavenward and make the birds sing. Propose a worthy toast, raise the goblets to
your lips, bury your nose in the mint, inhale a deep breath of its fragrance and
sip the nectar of the gods.
Being overcome with thirst, I can
write no further.
Lt. Gen. S.B. Buckner, Jr.
VMI Class of 1906
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Revised: 19 Jun 2011 16:35:18 -0400