The Greenbrier’s Julep

Mint Julep at the Greenbrier

Long before Churchill Downs put a julep in the hands of race-watchers and hat-wearers, those  summering at The Greenbrier were sipping on these wonderfully refreshing libations.

Within hours of our arrival today, Matt and I found ourselves sitting in the lobby, under the Gone With the Wind chandelier, toasting to summer and lives well lived.

So, here’s to summer, here’s to history, and here’s to experiences.

Like my mama always said, “Go out there and make ‘rocking chair memories.'”

Kentucky Derby

Photo Credit: Life Magazine

There is a certain ceremony to the Mint Julep in the South.

Perhaps it’s the horse racing, beautiful hats, and the thrill of gambling that accompanies its iconic status at Churchill Downs. But, like most things in the South… it has a story much older and a history much more complex.

The Julep was born far before the first running of the roses.

A long circulating story, told by some of our region’s greatest raconteurs, claims that the Julep was born in the 1700’s on the banks of the Mississippi River. A gentleman was looking for some water to mix with his bourbon. Instead, the good Lord pointed him to some wild mint that was prospering there on the banks of the great river. He dropped it in his drink and the first Julep was served; compliments of nature and divine inspiration.

In May 1937, LIFE Magazine dedicated its “LIFE Goes to a Party” feature to a mint julep fête held at the Louisville residence of Julian P. Van Winkle and his wife. Van Winkle, president of the Stitzel-Weller Distillery, served up the traditional derby drink, made exclusively with bourbon from his own label. Photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt captured guests who were partaking in the mint julep experience in the only acceptable way: by imbibing vast quantities.

In May 1937, LIFE Magazine dedicated its “LIFE Goes to a Party” feature to a mint julep fête held at the Louisville residence of Julian P. Van Winkle and his wife. Van Winkle, president of the Stitzel-Weller Distillery, served up the traditional derby drink, made exclusively with bourbon from his own label. Photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt captured guests who were partaking in the mint julep experience in the only acceptable way: by imbibing vast quantities.

We may never know the extent of the Lord’s intervention in its creation. But, we do know that by the late 1700’s, upper class Virginians were drinking the Julep, in silver goblets, with their breakfast.

The Greenbrier's Mint Julep Recipe (from the website)

The Greenbrier’s Mint Julep Recipe (from the website)

According to Greenbrier lore,

“The oldest account book at The Greenbrier dates from 1816 and it reveals that guests order “julips” at a cost of twenty-five cents per drink or three drinks for fifty cents.  These were not necessarily the most popular drinks since there was plenty of brandy, wine and whiskey available, but certain guests seemed to have a definite fondness for them.

When the popular writer Charles Dudley Warner described White Sulphur Springs in 1886 he noted that immediately upon arrival a traveler was met by attendants “who avowed that there was no time of day or night when a mint julep or any other necessity of life would not be forthcoming at a moment’s warning.”

By 1914—the first full year that The Greenbrier Hotel was open—the mint julep was such a staple that a recipe for the drink appeared on the resort’s souvenir calendar.  Of course it has long been a tradition that a mint julep be served in a silver cup and for many years The Greenbrier utilized custom-designed service cups in the popular watering spot, the Old White Lounge.”

Our room at the Greenbrier

Our room at The Greenbrier; I am in wallpaper heaven.

Even though we have passed the month of May and the running of the roses, we still need something to drink at breakfast… I mean at parties.

Why not serve a Mint Julep at your summer soirees and tell the tall tale of its providential inception on the banks of the Old Blue.

Or better yet, make your way to The Greenbrier to drink an original… and make memories for your rocking-chair days.

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