Things I Drink and So Should You: The Mint Julep

There’s a woman in my church who wears a proper church crown. I call it that because it deserves the name. It’s a royal blue, straw hat with plastic sunflowers emanating from the brim. She wears it proud, as each year of the 93 she’s been alive has earned her the right to wear it, and nothing could take that crown from her head.

I wish we lived in an era where it were not only appropriate but fashionable for women to wear church crowns. Hell, as a pastor, I wish it were fashionable for women to just come to church. But, barring that, I wish women would bring the hat back. Because when a woman wears a hat, a real hat, it lets everyone know that she is not to be trifled with, not to be played. A woman in a church crown is a woman who runs shit.

I suppose I should define church crown. A church crown isn’t just a hat. Every grandmother has a hat she’ll break out when the weather gets warm and the sun beats down. This is not that hat. In fact, if you’ve never been to a prayer meeting, you don’t know what a church crown is. Church crowns don’t just cover your head and keep you cool; church crowns let everyone know you’re in church. When you stand up to praise, it’s your hat that’s seen. That royal purple blob twenty pews ahead? That’s Dotty, praying for Raymond, like she has the last twenty years. And damn if you don’t put your head down and pray that this might be the week Ray finally gets it.

After 30 years of church, the sight of an honest church crown can put my chin into my neck for a minute of prayer, or simply some good old “yes ma’am”, even when I’m running the show. When Phyllis shows up with that sunflower halo, I know she needs Jesus, and I know she needs prayer. She’s got a dozen hats that she wears for church, but Sunday School kids that graduated before I was born made her that one. When she deigns to bring that to the congregation, we all know. We all pray.

This weekend, there will be women aplenty, many of them showing off hats pretending to be church crowns. It seems, sometimes, like the Kentucky Derby takes a back seat to the parade of outrageous hats worn by the debutantes and former-debutantes-wishing-they-were-debutantes. These women will play like that business on their head is a church crown, and they stole that half from their slaves (church crowns) and half from Britain (much longer, dumber story), but really, they just want attention. The hats at Churchill Downs are ostentatious, but not in the innocent or knowing way that a church crown is. The hats around the track are all about the wearer. They aren’t there to show that they dressed up because Jesus is there, but because a photographer is.

Despite it all, if things go well,everyone else will be able to ignore those pretentious broads and focus on the ponies.

The Kentucky Derby is one of America’s premier events, and yet it feels as if every instance could be the last in which it holds the nation’s imagination. It’s the fastest two minutes in sports. It’s the Daytona 500 in one fucking lap, and instead of an inanimate object that requires 45 billion gallons of petrol, it’s a half-ton carriage of muscle and sinew. Twenty horses run. One wins. It’s over in two minutes or less. You make money or you lose. More often you lose. But if you can take your eyes off the track while those perfect machines come round for the stretch, you don’t deserve to be called human, let alone American.

And if, while you’re watching the world’s most inbred creatures (outside of British royalty) burn their way across some dirt, you don’t have a mint julep in your hand, you can’t be counted as a true believer in drink. This is one of the few weekends where your libation of choice is dictated by the calendar. The gods have made it easy for you. All you need to do is settle in and enjoy it. And enjoy it you will, should anyone of even the most minimal competence craft it for you.

The mint julep is a drink made for drinking. You might think that an obvious statement, but think about it for a minute. A martini asks you to balance it atop a tiny stalk. An old fashioned asks you to screw up your mouth for that moment of harshness. A gin and tonic, that most accessible of cocktails, asks you to accept the singular aftertaste of juniper. They all have their place. They all have their time. But they ask something.

All the mint julep asks is: “You wanna drank, Shugga?” If it’s made correct, you’ll actually hear the glass call you with that Dixie Carter/Julia Sugarbaker (R.I.P.) drawl. And you’ll happily accept. A mint julep is a veranda that looks down a long drive lined with willows. A mint julep is an afternoon shaded from the sun, overlooking a pond on which a single rowboat makes its way round. A mint julep …

Oh, fuck. I’ll be honest. A mint julep makes you feel like a plantation owner in the middle of July, watching everyone else (read: slaves) working hard in the sun while you sip your intoxicatin’ liqua in the shade. It tastes damned good. You might feel something like a hate for it, but by Saturday Confederate History Month will be over and you can drink it ironically. Or, you can simply try to take it back from those Robert E. Lee-loving, slave-trading, sons of bitches from south of the Potomac*.

Herewith, make this drink for Saturday. Watch them horses. Sit in the shade. Enjoy leisure. I defy you to find sentences that describe your desires better than the previous three.

  • A pitcher. You will find one and put a bunch of ice in it. Do not crush or disturb the ice.
  • Pour sugar in the pitcher. Do your think you’re done pouring sugar in? Do it for three more seconds.
  • Add a ton of mint sprigs. Seriously, just take a mint plant, shrug off the dirt and toss it in.
  • Don’t put a spoon in yet.
  • Let the bourbon cascade over the ice and mix the sugar. Also, on this of all days, if you use something from outside Kentucky, your passport should be revoked, and you should be put on an iceberg with nothing but Smirnoff and a polar bear who only knows Coleridge.
  • Spoon. Stir it like 1) you’re a horse on the backstretch of the Derby or 2) you’re keeping down a rebellion of your slaves. Don’t crush, stir. Muddle the mint against the edges as you’re going ’round.
  • After 30 seconds, you’ll notice that there’s more room at the top, from the ice melting and everything else coming together. Put in some ice-cold water and slowly stir again.
  • Sit on a porch, tipping the pitcher into highballs when necessary.
  • Realize, as the sun goes down, you missed the race.
  • Tear up your ticket.

Honestly, this is the easiest drinking weekend of the year. All you need is bourbon, ice and mint. Mix them in any order and you have a winner. Also: Homeboykris to win; Conveyance** to place; Ice Box to show. But any way you place them, just let them run and watch them go.


*Again, I claim my West (By God) Virgina heritage with fucking pride.We love the mint julep and hate secession.

**Is there a better name for a fucking horse? Oh, homeboykris? Nevermind. But, seriously. “What’s this horse’s name?” “Conveyance.” “That’s a job, not a name.” “That’s the horse’s name, Nadine.” “Alright then, Horace. Conveyance it is.”

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