It is a dream itself
May 2, 2014 8:21 PM   Subscribe

So it's Kentucky Derby time, once again. But I don't care much for horse racing. So I could say it's really just an excuse to post this wonderful video of Chris McMillian on how to properly craft a Mint Julep. But that would be a lie. I don't care much for Mint Juleps either. They're really just an excuse to post this heart-breakingly beautiful poem about Mint Juleps:

The Very Dream of Drinks
by Joshua Soule Smith, c. 1890

But in the Blue Grass land there is a softer sentiment -- a gentler soul.
There is where the wind makes waves of the wheat
and scents itself with the aroma of new-mown hay,
there is no contest with the world outside.

On summer days when, from his throne,
the great sun dictates his commands,
one may look forth across broad acres
where the long grass falls and rises
as the winds may blow it.
He can see the billowy slopes far off,
each heaving as the zephyrs touch it with a caressing hand.

Sigh of the earth with never a sob,
the wind comes to the Blue Grass.
A sweet sigh, a loving one;
a tender sigh, a lover’s touch,
she gives the favored land.

And the moon smiles at her caressing
and the sun gives benediction to the lovers.
Nature and earth are one -- married by the wind and sun
whispering leaflets on the happy tree.

Then comes the zenith of man’s pleasure.
Then comes the julep -- the mint julep.
Who has not tasted one has lived in vain.
The honey of Hymettus brought no such solace to the soul;
the nectar of the Gods is tame beside it.

It is the very dream of drinks,
the vision of sweet quaffings.
The Bourbon and the mint are lovers.
In the same land they live,
on the same food they are fostered.
The mint dips its infant leaf into the same stream
that makes the bourbon what it is.

The corn grows in the level lands
through which small streams meander.
By the brook-side the mint grows.
As the little wavelets pass,
they glide up to kiss the feet of the growing mint,
the mint bends to salute them.
Gracious and kind it is,
living only for the sake of others.

The crushing of it only makes its sweetness more apparent.
Like a woman’s heart,
it gives its sweetest aroma when bruised.
Among the first to greet the spring, it comes.
Beside the gurgling brooks that make music in the pastures
it lives and thrives.

When the Blue Grass begins to shoot
its gentle sprays toward the sun,
mint comes, and its sweetest soul
drinks at the crystal brook.

It is virgin then.
But soon it must be married to Old Bourbon.
His great heart, his warmth of temperament,
and that affinity which no one understands,
demand the wedding.

How shall it be?
Take from the cold spring some water,
pure as angels are;
mix it with sugar until it seems like oil.
Then take a glass and crush your mint within it with a spoon.
Crush it around the borders of the glass
and leave no place untouched.
Then throw the mint away -- it is a sacrifice.

Fill with cracked ice the glass;
pour in the quantity of Bourbon which you want.
It trickles slowly through the ice.
Let it have time to cool,
then pour your sugared water over it.
No spoon is needed,
no stirring is allowed -- just let it stand a moment.
Then around the brim place sprigs of mint,
so that the one who drinks
may find a taste and odor at one draught.

When it is made, sip it slowly.
August suns are shining,
the breath of the south wind is upon you.
It is fragrant, cold and sweet -- it is seductive.
No maiden’s touch could be more passionate.

Sip it and dream -- you cannot dream amiss.
Sip it and dream -- it is a dream itself.
No other land can give so sweet a solace for your cares;
no other liquor soothes you so in melancholy days.
Sip it and say there is no solace for the soul,
no tonic for the body like Old Bourbon whiskey.
posted by mikeand1 (28 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Adding, the original piece was apparently published as prose in the Lexington Herald. But I've seen it formatted as a poem, and it seems to me to hit home in that form, so that's how I've posted it, with just a bit of reformatting.
posted by mikeand1 at 8:31 PM on May 2, 2014

Nice - for the impatient, McMillian recites the poem starting at 4:20 in the video, and starting from the middle of what you've quoted here.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:38 PM on May 2, 2014

And my apologies for thread-sitting, but if anyone is near the University of Kentucky, they have some five boxes of the author's writings, including numerous poems. I think there must be some real gems in there. Perhaps some enterprising soul could republish them, if so; as nearly as I can tell, they've not been widely published.
posted by mikeand1 at 8:46 PM on May 2, 2014

I'm not a huge cocktail fan, but I have to say that I discovered, in recent years, that on a hot summer day I enjoy a mint julep or three far far more than I ever expected to.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:31 PM on May 2, 2014

Further to item's post, for the uninitiated.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 9:38 PM on May 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

It might be presumptuous to disagree with such a distinguished mixologist but I'm sorry, you don't put peach syrup in a mint julep.

Also, I don't much care for the poet's comparison of the sweet aroma of bruising mint and women's hearts but I was intrigued by the list of his papers at the University of Kentucky which include, among other African American photographs, one of M.C. Davies with this inscription:
"To my friend
J. Soule Smith -
from M.C. Davies
Thomasville Ga.
Please accept photo.
upon our boyhood
friendship and love.
So now let us unite
With the poet when he said
'Fleecy locks and black
Complexion cannot forfeit nature's claims;
Skins may differ, but affection
Dwells in white and black the same.'
W. C. Poet
pag 210"

There's a story I'd like to read about.
posted by Anitanola at 10:02 PM on May 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

PareidoliaticBoy's link to Grantland's annotated version of Hunter S. Thompson's 1970 take on the Kentucky Derby is classic stuff. Thompson later noted it as a seminal moment in his career, for what that's worth:

“I was sure it was the last article I was ever going to do for anybody,” Thompson said in a 1974 interview with Playboy. “Then when it came out, there were massive numbers of letters, phone calls, congratulations, people calling it a ‘great breakthrough in journalism.’ And I thought, ‘Holy shit, if I can write like this and get away with it, why should I keep trying to write like the New York Times?’ It was like falling down an elevator shaft and landing in a pool full of mermaids.”

The piece is also in the essential collection The Great Shark Hunt, if you want more brilliant HST.

My deepest Derby memory is picking the winners of the first 3 races on the bus from the hotel to the track as a pre-teen boy, using nothing but the stats on the racing form my gambling Dad had with him. He looked at me with new, deep respect when we got to the Derby and he realized what I'd done. Of course, once he was able to actually bet on my instincts, they stopped being so good and we just broke even.

I'm not sure he ever forgave me for that.
posted by mediareport at 10:15 PM on May 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Dammit item and PareidoliaticBoy that was the first thing that came to my old cynical mind. The second was hats. The third thing I wondered about was whether can you buy adrenochrome and if so how?
posted by vapidave at 10:16 PM on May 2, 2014

5, over 6, 10, 16, 19, 20; or box 5, 12, 16, 19. Drink up and good luck!
posted by T.D. Strange at 11:54 PM on May 2, 2014

I'm an Illustrator and I'm in Louisville. I'm going to go down to the Pendennis Club and get into a fight.
posted by Mcable at 4:39 AM on May 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I dislike the strong association between mint juleps and the Derby because I think it discourages people from drinking them the rest of the summer. They are, to me, unequivocally the best summer drink. Gin and tonic is good, and so is a dark and stormy, but there's nothing better than a mint julep. Derby day is the beginning of mint julep season, not the only day.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:32 AM on May 3, 2014

no, this is a heart-breakingly beautiful poem about a mint julep

One early mornin', as I was walkin'
I met a woman, we started talkin'
I took her home to get a few nips
But all I had was a mint julep
One mint julep was the cause of it all

I don't remember just how it started
I only know that we should have parted
I stole a kiss and then another
I didn't mean to take it further
One mint julep was the cause of it all

The lights were burning low, there in the parlor
When through the kitchen door, up popped her father
He said, "I saw you when you kissed my daughter
Better wed her right now or face a slaughter"

I didn't know just what I was doin'
I had to marry or face ruin
A mint julep, a mint julep
A mint julep, a mint julep
One mint julep was the cause of it all

Now, I don't want to bore you with my troubles
But from now on I'll be thinkin' double
I'm through with flirtin' and drinkin' whiskey
I got six extra children from a-gettin' frisky

A mint julep, a mint julep
A mint julep, a mint julep
One mint julep was the cause of it all

recited by the clovers here
posted by pyramid termite at 5:51 AM on May 3, 2014

Honestly, if it's cool enough to get frisky, it's probably too cool for a julep. He should have known better.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:11 AM on May 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

  The mint dips its infant leaf into the same stream
       that makes the bourbon what it is.

You have streams of ethanol in Kentucky?!
posted by scruss at 6:45 AM on May 3, 2014

I've been to one Kentucky Derby, in 1994, scoring press passes for my companion and I. It had rained all morning and intermittently during the afternoon, leaving the day hot and uncomfortably muggy, and the track a mud pit. We wandered amidst the mass of humanity, lots of people huddled in the porticos drying off. I had my first mint julep (press pass tucked under my shirt) in a commemorative glass that listed every Derby winner, recoiled a bit, and worked through it. Then a second, which went down much better. The humidity was causing a good deal of condensation buildup on the glass, and the drink was so cold that the condensation would then freeze on the outside of the glass. It felt like holding a glass made of ice. By the third drink I began to understand the charms of the mint julep, and by the fourth I was a confirmed southerner.

Those press passes allowed us to work our way down to the rail, right at the finish line, for the Derby, where we watched Go for Gin win wire-to-wire. Leaving, we saw a mass of gray bodies, like a zombie move. Every person from the infield was covered head to toe in gray mud.

That was a good day.
posted by stargell at 6:46 AM on May 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Frankly, I don't give a damn.
posted by clvrmnky at 8:07 AM on May 3, 2014

I live in Louisville. My grandfather was a horse trainer. My uncle is a farrier. I love bourbon, and *none* of us natives drink Mint Juleps. (A lot of us drink Bourbon though.)
posted by DigDoug at 8:32 AM on May 3, 2014

The is a set of instructions for the making of a Mint Julep contained in a letter from the turn of the century that was posted on the blue once at some point and that I've been looking for forever. In it a Southern officer instructs a Northern general in the making of a proper Mint Julep with as much southern snark as could possibly be piled on, does anyone know what I'm remembering? ...and do you know where I could find it again?
posted by Blasdelb at 9:10 AM on May 3, 2014

I live about ten minutes from Churchill Downs, and so have been dodging tourists all week. Not going to the Derby, but I do have a party to attend later this evening.

Well, will you look at that! The sun is over the yardarm!

The is a set of instructions for the making of a Mint Julep contained in a letter from the turn of the century that was posted on the blue once at some point and that I've been looking for forever. In it a Southern officer instructs a Northern general in the making of a proper Mint Julep with as much southern snark as could possibly be piled on, does anyone know what I'm remembering? ...and do you know where I could find it again?
posted by Blasdelb

Do you mean the famous Buckner letter?

Below is text 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.

The Recipe

March 30, 1937

My dear General Connor,

Your letter requesting my formula for mixing mint juleps leaves me in the same position in which Captain Barber found himself when asked how he was able to carve the image of an elephant from a block of wood. He replied 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 the 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, nor a Yankee. It is a heritage of the old South, an emblem of hospitality and a vehicle in which noble minds can travel together upon the flower-strewn paths of 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 through its banks of green moss and wildflowers until it broadens and trickles through beds of mint growing in aromatic profusion and waving softly in the summer breezes. 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.

In 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.

In 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 outsides of the goblets dry and embellish copiously with mint.

Then comes the important and delicate 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 glittering 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 goblet 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 by thirst, I can write no further.

S.B. Buckner, Jr.
posted by magstheaxe at 9:45 AM on May 3, 2014 [7 favorites]

The video was hard to watch, especially since I made about 15 mint juleps last night and pulverized the hell out of the mint. Thankfully nobody complained.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:47 AM on May 3, 2014

I kind of like watching the Kentucky derby, though I won't be watching it this year. Not much of a fan of mint juleps, though I like julep cups. Bourbon. I like Kentucky bourbon. it's nice to see some poetry on MeFi.
posted by theora55 at 10:59 AM on May 3, 2014

"Pluck the mint gently from its bed, just as the dew of the evening is about to form upon it ... Prepare the simple syrup and measure out a half-tumbler of whiskey. Pour the whiskey into a well-frosted silver cup, throw the other ingredients away and drink the whiskey."

--Henry Watterson.
posted by DigDoug at 1:42 PM on May 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

That is exactly it, thanks magstheaxe!
posted by Blasdelb at 1:50 PM on May 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed the very great privilege of having Mr. McMillian make me a Mint Julep. It's an experience I treasure. After he left the Ritz, worked for a year or two in the lobby bar of the Renaissance Pere Marquette, opening Miller Lite and pouring rum and Diet Coke for lots of tourists who had no idea who he was. But if you knew, oh the drinks he would make, and oh, the knowledge and history he'd share!

I had a Julep, a Ramos Gin Fizz, my first whiskey sour with an egg white, and so many unnamed, spontaneous libations. Once I shared sugar cubes soaked with Elixir Végétal de la Grande-Chartreuse from his secret stash with Mr. and Mrs. McMillian.

He is a great historian of cocktails, New Orleans, and humanity, a national treasure. He's also a helluva bartender.
posted by mostlymartha at 2:08 PM on May 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Uh, do you have to listen to that poem in order to drink these?

I enjoyed the moment where the bartender picked up the wacking great mallet and began pounding away at the bag of ice while still reciting, but I think I'd chuck the drink up if I had to listen to it every time.
posted by jrochest at 11:26 PM on May 3, 2014

Imagining Orson Welles reading it may help, jrocheat
posted by thelonius at 8:47 AM on May 5, 2014

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