Charles Dickens’s Enchanted Mint Julep

Here in the Bluegrass, the Spring is marked by a series of back to back events largely unknown to the outside world: four weeks of horse racing at Keeneland, immediately followed by the world renowned Kentucky Three-Day Event (more horses), and then, one week later, the world famous Kentucky Derby.  And wherever people celebrate the Derby, there are bound to be Mint Juleps.  But while the history of the Julep is long and elaborate, and while every bar and Southern family proudly sports their own hack or secret recipe, there is one Julep story that stands out to us and we are proud to share it for the week leading up to Derby. 

In 1842, Charles Dickens visited the U.S. and tells an extraordinary tale of an encounter in a hotel with his friend, Washington Irving: 

“Some unknown admirer of his books and mine sent to the hotel a most enormous mint julep, wreathed with flowers.  We sat, one on either side of it, with great solemnity (it filled a respectably-sized round table), but the solemnity was of very short duration.  It was quite an enchanted julep, and carried us among innumerable people and places that we both knew.  The julep held out far into the night, and my memory never saw him afterwards otherwise than as bending over it, with his straw, with an attempted air of gravity…and then as his eye caught mine, melting into that captivating laugh of his, which was the brightest and best I have ever heard.” 

The hotel was likely Barnum’s Hotel in Baltimore and the “enchanted julep” was probably served in a punch bowl on a medium sized salon side table.  And while the image of these two literary giants sharing a punch bowl-sized julep is memorable enough, the joy that shines through Dickens’s journal entry is infectious. Washington Irving and Charles Dickens taking turns leaning over a punch bowl and drinking a large format whiskey mixed drink late into the night, until they were riotous with laughter, stands out in all the secret stories of 19th century literature…and booze.  

This week we are celebrating both Dickens’s enchanting julep and the Kentucky Derby with our own large format julep, inspired by this story.  Our large format julep is served in a 2 liter bowl with straws for all parties and is built with Woodford Reserve (official sponsor of the Derby), a house mint “tea” syrup, and a small portion of Giffard’s apricot brandy (Apricot de Roussillion).  This treasure is built to share with friends—it measures in at about 7 cocktails—and guarantees a night of laughter.   And it’s only here until May 1st, so come and make memories of your own.  

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