On the day of the Kentucky Derby, distilleries vie for the distinction of having their bourbon poured into the mint juleps served there. The first mint juleps, which are thought to date back to the early 19th century, called for brandy or rum. However local whisky, frequently home distilled rye and bourbon, soon became the spirit of choice.
Once bourbon was acknowledged as the accepted alcoholic base for this classic American drink, arguments as to how a mint julep was to be mixed began.
Some recipes call for a stock syrup flavoured with crushed mint; some call for uncrushed mint; some suggest chopping the mint as you would for mint sauce before adding ice, sugar and bourbon; some just add a couple of sprigs of mint to the glass. Such issues are still being debated.
The only thing that mint julep enthusiasts appear to agree on is that sipping a mint julep on a hot summer's day is equal to sipping the nectar of the gods.
One Oxford college kept up its own mint julep ceremony for many years. It began on June 1, 1845, when William Heyward Trapier, an American planter from Wynah in South Carolina was dinning at New College. When the visitor called for a mint julep after dinner, and it wasn't forthcoming, he gave the college his family recipe for the drink so that he could be sure of being served one if he ever called again.
He also gave the college a beautiful 18th-century silver pot with a double scroll handle representing vine leaves, in which it should be served, and enough money for the drink to be made and passed around among the fellows every year on the anniversary of his visit.
For some years, a place at table was set for him on the anniversary of that gift, as he had threatened to return to check that his wishes were being carried out. The custom finally fell into disuse during the Second World War.
This is said to be the mint julep recipe that William Heyward Trapier left with New College.
Crush two sprigs of mint and half a teaspoon of sugar in the bottom of a tall glass.
Add two lumps of ice and cover with Bourbon whiskey.
Fill the glass with cracked ice and chill for several hours before drinking.