Prescription Julep


Winter offers the ultimate opportunity for two, seemingly contradictory, moods. On the one hand, the biting cold can bring people together. Friends around a crackling bonfire, a warm bowl of punch at a dinner party or a family around a roaring hearth bring images of holiday cheer where, on the other hand, a dreary sky and equally gloomy weather can lead the most cheerful social butterfly into lonely introspection, wrapped in a blanket, feeding a fire in a dark room and, probably, nursing a cocktail.

This time we bring you a drink that can easily be described as fussy. It takes multiple steps, some seeming redundant at the time, and asks for more ingredients that aren't really necessary. 

But hopefully the Prescription Julep will keep your hands busy, your mind pondering and your body warm.

The recipe comes from David Wondrich’s bar necessity, "Imbibe," in which Wondrich traces this wintery take on the summer classic from a “piece of medical humor” printed in Harpers Monthly in 1857 titled “A Winter in the South,” allegedly penned by the certainly farcical “Quackenboss, M.D."

The cocktail historian and aficionado goes on to call the Prescription Julep “the tastiest Mint Julep recipe I know.”

The recipe substitutes a mixture of rye whiskey and cognac “as old and rich as you can afford” for the traditional bourbon. A float of high proof rum is added at the top near the end for an extra kick.

The result is competing characteristics of the mellow cognac and spicy rye leaving only rich flavors and no sharp edges.

Now for the “fussy” part, the ice. 

I encourage the drinker to ponder ice for a moment. It is likely an ingredient often taken for granted, a way to cool off a drink or slowly dilute a strong sipping whiskey. 

For the longest time ice was a luxury item for the wealthy, and even when it became commonly available, it was sold in blocks to stay frozen.

Local historian, the late Jim Lacey used, to talk about watching large masses of ice being removed from trains in Canton large enough to crush a man.

Bartenders were charged with carefully carving and crushing their ice into all manner of shapes and sizes and textures. 

Today, we can buy it in a large plastic sack for a few dollars or freeze water in our own home in just about any shape we desire. Hell, Chef Paul Hancock of Citrus & Palm in Indian Wells, California was lately quoted in Esquire saying rendered pig fat, frozen into spheres, is his go-to for chilling a fine glasses of scotch. Ice just isn’t ice anymore.

Like a frozen margarita, a Julep requires a specific genre of ice, crushed, to be successful.

In 1857, bartenders had to meticulously shave the ice off a block or pound a larger piece in a big leather bag until it was fine and flakey.

Thank God crushed ice comes directly out of the fridge these days because you will need a lot of it.

This holiday season, throw some wood on the fire, meticulously make yourself a drink, consider the wonders of ice and be glad you aren't out there in the cold.

The Prescription Julep

1.5 oz. Cognac

.5 oz. rye whiskey

7 fresh mint leaves

.5 tsp. simple syrup

1 dash of a good Jamaican rum

Combine the mint leaves and syrup in the bottom of a chilled julep glass and gently press the leaves with a muddler. Add crushed ice until the glass is one-third full, then pour in the rye and add more crushed ice until glass is two thirds full and agitate with a bar spoon. Add the Cognac and additional crushed ice to fill and stir again. Pack additional crushed ice to make a cone-shaped mound on top of the cup and garnish with a bouquet of fresh mint leaves and a dash of Jamaican rum.