The Engineer’s Guide to a Mint Julep

If you couldn’t guess, it’s me, your friendly neighborhood (anonymous) engineer. Yes, I still have free reign over our blog. I’m back to provide another topical piece of edutainment. It’s May, and if you’re from Kentucky or the outlying regions, then there’s one thing on your mind right now. It’s the single most important piece of Kentucky heritage since the state was admitted into the Union as the 15th state back in 1792.

I’m speaking of the Kentucky Derby. Ladies; it’s time to dust off the peacock-feathered, lace-covered wide-brimmed hats. Gentleman; take your wrinkled seersucker suit to the dry cleaners. It’s that one day out of 365 where you may wear it unironically, even if the black bow tie in the spirit of Colonel Sanders tips the scales just a bit. That’s called a “western bow tie”, by the way; go ahead and google it.

Why I Love the Derby

Did you know they use a robot horse at the Kentucky Derby? Sure, the brains behind this mechanical invention chose to make it sound decidedly less cool by calling it a “biomechanical hoof tester,” but let’s call a spade a spade; it’s a robot horse.

An engineering professor at the University of Maine invented this device, which applies 1,000 pounds of pressure at 70 miles per hour. Has he set in motion a future where the Derby more closely resembles Terminator? No, at least not yet; the biomechanical hoof tester tamps the ground in preparation for the derby, which greatly reduces the risk of injury in the horse on race day.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I love a great robot apocalypse origin story, but that’s not why I love the derby. I love it because it’s a leisurely day at the races, sipping on one of my favorite beverages, and a staple of Kentucky. I’m speaking of course of the mint julep.

The History of the Mint Julep

What is a julep, and why is it mint? These are the pressing questions that keep me up at night. As far as I can tell, the term “julep” is derived from the Spanish Arabic word “julepe,” which is synonymous with “rosewater.” The origins of this drink come from the ancient, far corners of Europe, where a julepe was a lightly alcoholic, primarily medicinal beverage.

The first mention of the “mint julep,” which is what we in the south know it as was discovered in a book published in 1793. Wikipedia cites the quotation as, “a tumbler of rum and water, well sweetened, with a slip of mint in it.”

Once again, in 1803, the drink is mentioned as “a dram of spirituous liquor that has mint steeped in it, taken by Virginians of a morning.”

While the origins of the mint julep are still uncertain, there is one thing we can know for sure; we gotta get back to talking like they did in the olden days. I want my liquor to be spiritous, my slips of mint to be steeped.

As an enthusiast of Americana, I understand your frustration. As an engineer, I can cut historians some slack. In America’s short history, how can we not know for certain the origin of such a highly-regarded beverage? I have one simple answer for you; all good ideas evolve, and all absolutely great ideas become ubiquitous. You’re not out there cataloguing the invention of the Snuggie, are you? It just is, and always will be from here on out.

You’re Doing Ice Wrong

What if I said that everything you know about ice is wrong? Okay; maybe that’s a little hyperbolic. Yet, I bet I can improve your ice game with a few simple improvements. First of all, how many of you just fill your dirty ice tray full of tap water, shove it into the back of your freezer, and call it a day? There are a few reasons that that’s terrible; the exposed ice will absorb freezer odors, tap water can have a bad taste, and when was the last time you washed your ice tray?

A mint julep uses a lot of ice, so if you’re gonna drink something that so heavily highlights ice, then let’s do it the right way. Here’s what I suggest:

A Classic Mint Julep Recipe

You’ve got your western bow tie and your seersucker suit on. You’ve been practicing your smooth drawl in the mirror all morning. You’re ready for the derby, or, at the very least, for a refreshing mint julep with your favorite pet on your lap while you sit on your patio and listen to the races on your portable AM radio.

Let’s dive into my favorite recipe. No, this isn’t some fancy-schmancy hybrid julep with mango coulis. This is a Senator Henry Clay, fire-in-your-belly julep like a true Kentuckian would enjoy.

*Editors Note: Mr. X was advised against suggesting which Kentucky Bourbon to use for the recipe due to the wide ranging selections and personal tastes. We suggest you use your favorite, as long as it’s a Kentucky Bourbon!

Engineers & Kentuckians Share At Least One Thing in Common

What is one thing a Kentuckian and an engineer have in common? We know a good idea when we see it. Sure, we might forget who came up with it from time to time, but we’re opportunists. Not in the “take advantage of someone” sense, but in a shared philosophy that good ideas, when discovered, should be nurtured and celebrated. Most of all, they should be allowed the breathing room to evolve.

Celebrating your culture, whether it’s the culture of your state, the place you work, or your industry, it’s all about passing ideas on to the next generation. That’s how you build upon the successes of your ancestors. The mint julep, as elusive as its origins might be, is a great example of knowing what’s good and passing it on. As an engineer, I admire and respect that.