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Mint Juleps Made Right

November 22, 2011

Located two blocks away from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, the Willard Hotel has roots that date back to 1816.  A Washington staple, the guest list at the Willard has included figures such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Ulysses S. Grant, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Buffalo Bill and Charles Dickens.  Despite years of rebuilding and remodeling, one thing the guests of this Pennsylvania Avenue landmark have had in common is the bar.

Since the first building occupied this address, a drinking establishment has been present.  It was here that Senator Henry Clay debated the proper way to make a mint julep with Captain Frederick Marryat, a fixture in the British navy.  Clay, a proud son of Kentucky, naturally preferred bourbon over rum or brandy in his julep.  The recipe as listed in Sen. Henry Clay’s diary reads,

“The mint leaves fresh and tender, should be pressed against the goblet with the back of a silver spoon. Only bruise the leaves gently and then remove them from the goblet. Half fill with cracked ice. Mellow bourbon, aged in oaken barrels, is poured from the jigger and allowed to slide slowly through the cracked ice. In another receptacle, granulated sugar is slowly mixed with chilled limestone water to make a silvery mixture as smooth as some rare Egyptian oil, then poured on top of the ice. While beads of moisture gather on the burnished exterior of the silver goblet, garnish the brim of the goblet with choicest sprigs of mint.”

In 1986 with the reopening of the Willard Hotel, the Round Robin Bar has held residence.  Remaining true to tradition, Clay’s method continues to be the recipe of record since first introduced in the early 1800’s.  Despite a very respectable scotch selection; the mint julep and Clay’s recipe remain the Round Robin Bar’s most popular drink, with nearly 10,000 made each year.

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