The Mint Julep

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 son 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 n 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 an elephant.

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, or 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 start.

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 white frost.

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.

Sincerely, Lt. Gen. S.B. Buckner, Jr. VMI Class of 1906


  • 13 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • It is a rite that must not be entrusted to a novice, a statistician, or a Yankee.

    Excuse me, are my eyes deceiving me???Is "Yankee" capitalized here??? I thought that was a "no no"???

  • Don, is there no end to your creativity? If one were to follow that modus operandi, by the time you are ready to fill the glass with "snowy ice" it would be melted. Or did I miss something?
  • All I did was post the recipe of Mr. Buckner. I thought it was beautiful. How nice it would have been to sit on a porch with that guy and have him prepare a drink! I can't imagine. He capitalized yankee out of respect. Why, I don't know. Except that 140 years ago it was proper to do that. The requirement has diminished over time. (smiles)
  • I had always heard that Mint Juleps were nasty drinks. My neighbor (who hails from Kentucky) prepared one for me over the 4th, although not as beautifully as Lt. Gen. Buckner. It was YUMMY! This post makes my mouth water! =P~
  • OK, help me here. How do you slightly bruise a mint leaf? My SO planted mint in one of our flowerbeds and I have spent the summer attempting to keep the mint plants from controlling the flower patch. Also, how does one embellish copiously with mint, does this mean to wipe the goblet with several slightly bruised mint leaves? I would love to try this as a means to the end of my mint plant takeover attempt, or, I could just pull all of the mint plants and buy some peppermint snaps at the barley pop shop.
  • This does create an amazing, eloquent visual. Also brought back memories of my dear Dad. .a poor farm boy from Michigan (translate Yankee). When we lived in south Florida he also had a patch of mint that was taking over the yard. Also had a new neighbor from Kentucky. Ralph and neighbor got on a mint julep kick that annoyed both spouses. He would line a whole glass with leaves and not so slightly bruise (translate pound) the leaves. Many broken glasses later, I think my mom finally vetoed the whole thing. Thanks for the picture of lost times and the memory too!
  • I always wondered what a Mint Julep was. I always thought it involved Creme de Menthe for some reason. Glad to see it doesn't. x:D

    Must the bourbon vessel be sealed with a cork or will corncob do?

  • I sense the gentleman to have been talking about a fine crystal decanter passed down through at least two generations.

    But, certainly, in Arkansas and Arizona, hooch from an old jug with a stopper would be fine, I'm sure.
  • Ah...hooch from a jug. This brings back a memory for me. I can remember an old mason jar sitting high out of reach in our cupboard. It contained what looked like to me...water. Many years later I learned that it contained white lighten, the recipe, hooch, moonshine...or any other various names. I seem to remember dandelion wine being around when I was little as well.
  • >I sense the gentleman to have been talking about
    >a fine crystal decanter passed down through at
    >least two generations.
    >But, certainly, in Arkansas and Arizona, hooch
    >from an old jug with a stopper would be fine,
    >I'm sure.

    I just thought he was being poetic when he said "vessel". I'm sure he did mean a decanter.

    Sometimes in AZ we use glasses but normally just chug from the jug or can. And we spit, too. Can't speak for Arkansasans. Or whatever they are called. x;-)
  • Someone I'm related to still makes the stuff. We have several samplings at home. And we use glasses.
  • I noticed how delicately you worded your post, Leslie. Afraid there are Revenooers watchin' this'ere thread? x;-)
  • [font size="1" color="#FF0000"]LAST EDITED ON 07-30-04 AT 01:26PM (CST)[/font][br][br]You never know Beags. It would never do to turn in a very elderly gentleman who makes some mighty fine squeezin's. x:D
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