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Bottles of Bourbon

Bourbon advertising suggests that the grand old whiskey of Bourbon County, Kentucky, USA is rebel fire, usually in the well-muscled belly of a 20-something male. It may well be the case that Kentucky's history of illicit hill-country stills gives bourbon a wild-side patina; but, as Kentucky's real character is blue grass1, horse racing, and rampant conservatism, it would be more appropriate to show the bourbon belly larger and salubriously suited.

Let's face it, smooth-talking bourbon has more in common with lawyers than it does with pool room sex symbols; but, as lawyers were at the heart of the French and American revolutions there is something in its rebel pose. A rebel image also helps to sell whiskey to young people who are more fond of its sweet ways than they are of the crusty burn of Scotch, especially when laced with Atlanta's black brew, Coke. Bourbon and Coke, now there's as bad a memory of youth as any image conjured up by temperance zealots.

However, like Scotch, bourbon (a whiskey distilled from a fermented mash containing not less than 51% corn in addition to malt and rye) is best when served simply with water - branch water in the opinion of the connoisseurs of the American South, a branch being Kentucky's version of a Scottish burn, which in itself is a small stream. Freed by water, all the tastes of smoke, sweet oak, mealy sour mash and the other harmonies that a good whiskey harbours are available for indulgence and quiet contemplation. If you really do want something to slam into the back of your throat like the night train to Georgia, or a slug, cowboy-style, then the drink is rye, an even sweeter whiskey. No need for Coke.

Not that bourbon won't light your fire, and then put it out completely, especially in its coolest form as a julep. There is an old story about a Southern gentleman who learned the art of making mint juleps from a Virginian cousin; or, as his slave foreman put it, 'How to eat grass in his whiskey'. So good was the recipe that 'Massa done et hisself to death'.

Maybe so, but the mint julep is as fine a cooler as has ever been invented, and served in tall, frosted glasses it looks sensational. The perfect summer party really: juleps on the lawn, picture hats and somewhere nice to lie down afterwards. Nothing else could be the official libation of the Kentucky Derby, the first jewel in the Triple Crown, and as vital a part of the 'run for the roses' as the horses doing the running. Churchill Downs would still be a temple without them, but not to the gods of gentility. There really can be no better way to toast the setting sun, reflected in the muddy waters of the Ohio river on a sultry Louisville evening, than by sipping bourbon through a thicket of fresh mint.

Mint Julep

  1. Refrigerate overnight:

    • A bottle of bourbon large enough for everyone in the party.

    • Three large bottles of water (still or fizzy, no matter).

    • A jug of sugar syrup (equal parts of sugar and water heated until the sugar is dissolved - do not boil.)

  2. Buzz 1/4 of a bottle of brandy and two handfuls of fresh mint leaves in the blender, and put 1.5 fingers (the width of two digits, on the end of your hand, silly) of this mix in the bottom of a tall glass.

  3. Add a triple bourbon, a shot of sugar syrup to taste, fill the glass with chunky ice cubes, top with icy cold water, add a zest of lemon and some whole mint (make it look really jungly) and sip elegantly through a straw.

Drink on any hot Sunday; bourbon was invented by a parson all the same. After a couple of these, frankly you won't give a damn.

1Kentucky blue grass, Poa pratensis is as green as the mint in your julep.

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