The mint julep is a mixed alcoholic drink, or cocktail, associated with the cuisine of the Southern United States.
A mint julep is traditionally made of four ingredients: mint, bourbon, sugar, and water. Traditionally, spearmint is the mint of choice used in Southern states; in particular, Kentucky Colonel. In the use of sugar and mint, it is similar to the mojito. In preparing a mint julep, a fresh mint sprig is used primarily as a garnish, to introduce the flavor and aroma through the nose. If mint leaves are used in the preparation, they should just be very lightly bruised, if at all. However, proper preparation of the cocktail is commonly debated, as methods may vary considerably from one bartender to another. By another method, the mint julep may be considered as one of a loosely associated family of drinks called “smashes” (the brandy smash is another example, as well as the mojito), in which fresh mint and other ingredients are muddled or crushed in preparation for flavoring the finished drink. The step further releases essential oils and juices into the mixture, intensifying the flavor from the added ingredient or ingredients.
Traditionally, mint juleps were often served in silver or pewter cups, and held only by the bottom and top edges of the cup. This allows frost to form on the outside of the cup. Traditional hand placement may have arisen as a way to reduce the heat transferred from the hand to the silver or pewter cup. Today, mint juleps are most commonly served in a tall old-fashioned glass, Collins glass, or highball glass with a straw.
The origins of the mint julep are clouded and may never be definitively known. The first appearance of a mint julep in print came in a book by John Davis published in London in 1803, where it was described as “a dram of spirituous liquor that has mint steeped in it, taken by Virginians of a morning.” However, Davis did not specify that bourbon was the spirit used. The mint julep originated in the southern United States, probably during the eighteenth century. U.S. Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky introduced the drink to Washington, D.C., at the Round Robin Bar in the famous Willard Hotel during his residence in the city. The term ‘julep’ is generally defined as a sweet drink, particularly one used as a vehicle for medicine. The word itself is derived from Arabic: ماء ورد Māʾ ward and Persian: گلاب Golâb, meaning rose water. Americans enjoyed not only bourbon based juleps during the nineteenth century, but also gin based juleps made with genever, an aged gin. However, bourbon based juleps have recently decisively eclipsed gin based juleps. Here is a letter describing the regard with which the Mint Julep is held by southern gentlemen. http://www.bencaudill.com/documents_msc/mintjulep.html