The Mint Julep
2-4 oz bourbon whiskey
Simple syrup, to taste
4-5 mint leaves, mint sprig for garnish
In a silver julep goblet, muddle the mint leaves with simple syrup. Crush some ice with a wooden mallet in a Lewis Bag, or a tightly-woven dish towel (not terry cloth, as ice will cling to it too much). You want it dry, almost powdery. Pack ice into goblet, then add your whiskey. Insert a spoon and swizzle it awhile, garnish it with the mint sprig.
The Kentucky Derby is tomorrow, what better time to make that classic drink, the Mint Julep. While the Mint Julep wasn’t in the original edition of my book, To Have and Have Another – A Hemingway Cocktail Companion, I’m happy to report that it will be in the 2d edition, due out on November 3, 2015. Here’s a sneak preview of that chapter.
“Good whiskey was very pleasant. It was one of the pleasant parts of life.” So noted protagonist Frederic Henry, in Hemingway’s 1929 classic, A Farewell to Arms. No doubt, Hemingway loved his whiskey. But as I noted in the Whiskey & Soda chapter, I hadn’t yet found a solid bourbon reference in all of my research. So, it was with great pleasure that I found for this edition a couple good stories from the Great American West. Who knows, maybe bourbon was his local drink of choice; to borrow a line from “Get a Seeing-Eyed Dog,” “it’s our drink for out here.”
From his late 20s through the rest of his life, Hemingway was drawn to the mountains of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. He went there to write, to hunt and fish, for the climate, to just escape. In the summer of 1930, he and Pauline spent a couple of months at the L–Bar–T Ranch in northwestern Wyoming. One day, while hunting for a grizzly bear that had been terrorizing local cattle, Hemingway was riding a horse named Goofy (I’m not making this up). Goofy got spooked by something and bolted, dashing headlong into a thick forest. Hemingway remained on the horse long enough to have his face severely lacerated by tree branches. He was bleeding profusely, and first aid did no good. So Hemingway and hunting companion Ivan Wallace rode on to a nearby ranger station, where they rented a dilapidated old car, driven by the ranger’s teenage daughter.
They drove to the nearest town, Cody, Wyoming, where a Dr. Trueblood (a former veterinarian) stitched up Hemingway’s face. According to Wallace, “The doctor wanted to put him to sleep, but Hemingway wouldn’t hear of it. ‘All I want is some whisky,’ he kept saying, ‘Just give me some whisky.’” [i] So, like any good Prohibition-era sawbones worth his salt, Dr. Trueblood promptly prescribed a bottle of Old Oscar Pepper Bourbon Whiskey which, shall we say, helped numb the pain, while Dr. Trueblood stitched up the gaping wound using, again, no joke, a long strand of horsehair. On the long drive back to the ranch, Hemingway and Wallace took a shot of bourbon each time their teenage driver stopped to open and close the livestock gates. Both of them slept most of the following day away, thanks to that Old Oscar Pepper Bourbon.
Just what the doctor ordered? Vintage Pepper Whisky ad, courtesy Georgetown Trading Company, current distillers of James Pepper Bourbon Whiskey.
Later that day, Hemingway offered to buy old Goofy. When the ranch owner offered a more reliable horse, Hemingway muttered through his bandages, “I don’t want to ride him, I want to shoot him for bear bait.”[i]
Hemingway’s son Patrick understood the allure of the West for Papa. “You have to appreciate what a trip to Idaho meant to my father. He had spent all those years, first in Key West, then in Cuba, where the fall weather was hot and muggy, and there was no respite from the summer they had just endured. Then to come out to Sun Valley and into that cool, clean, crisp, clear air, with the deep blue skies, the good hunting, the good friends he liked and trusted – that was a wonderful contrast for him.”[ii]
One of those friends was a fellow named Taylor “Bear Tracks” Williams, the Head Guide at the Sun Valley Resort. So respectful of his skills with a rifle, Hemingway referred to him as “the old Kentucky Colonel who will kill you dead at 300 yards with a borrowed rifle.”[iii] Further, “we call him Colonel because he is from Kentucky but everybody thinks he is a British Col. because he looks like one who has been in India too long and is also deaf.”[iv]
Like any “old Kentucky colonel,” Taylor knew his bourbon whiskey. “Taylor had lived in Idaho for years but he was a Kentuckian,” said a friend, Dorice Taylor. “His first personal project on taking a Job at Sun Valley as a guide was to plant a mint bed. Taylor didn’t ‘make’ a mint julep, he ‘built’ a julep. Even if you were on your fourth – or fifth – Taylor didn’t yield to the temptation to sweeten your old drink with another hoot of bourbon. He washed and polished the glass and started from scratch. Hemingway appreciated Taylor’s sportsmanship and juleps.”[v] According to Hemingway’s friend Tillie Arnold, “[h]e always had a mint bed some place. We never did find out exactly where it was. He said that the mint would be better if it was grown on the grave of a Confederate soldier.”[vi] Tillie’s husband, Lloyd Arnold, wasn’t so sure that Williams “hadn’t lifted one complete and transplanted it in Idaho.” In any event, upon sampling his first Taylor Williams Mint Julep, Hemingway exclaimed, “Christ! This is good, how long before a man can’t get up and walk out by himself?”[vii]
CAPTION: Oh, to have been a fly on the wall, a welcome party for Mr. & Mrs. Gary Cooper, Trail Creek Cabin, Sun Valley, Idaho, October 1940. From left to right, Rocky & Gary Cooper, Mrs. Winston McCrea, Dorothy Parker, “Colonel” Taylor Williams, Ernest Hemingway, Winston McCrea, Tillie Arnold, Martha Gellhorn, and Alan Campbell (Parker’s husband, in foreground, facing camera). Photo by Lloyd Arnold, courtesy William Smallwood.
As noted above, the ol’ Colonel kept the location of his mint bed a secret, and I hold no hope of ever finding it all these many years later. I’ve found, however, something nearly as good, “up in Michigan.”
The Hemingway short story “Summer People” is yet another of the great, semi-autobiographical Nick Adams stories, set in the Michigan woods of Hemingway’s youth. His family spent their summers near Petoskey, at their cottage Windemere, on Lake Walloon. “Summer People” is set in the town of Horton Bay, named for an inlet of nearby Lake Charlevoix. The story begins:
“Halfway down the gravel road from Hortons Bay (sic), the town, to the lake there was a spring. The water came up in a tile sunk beside the road, lipping over the cracked edge of the tile and flowing away through the close growing mint into the swamp. In the dark Nick put his arm down into the spring but could not hold it there because of the cold. He felt the featherings of the sand spouting up from the spring cones at the bottom against his fingers. Nick thought, I wish I could put all of myself in there. I bet that would fix me. He pulled his arm out and sat down at the edge of the road. It was a hot night.”
In October of 2013, while presenting at the Michigan Hemingway Society’s annual conference, I visited Horton Bay, and was fortunate enough to talk with Jim Hartwell, proprietor of the Hartwell & Co. Bookshop, part of the Red Fox Inn. Jim’s grandfather Vollie Fox is said to have tutored the young Hemingway on trout fishing in Horton’s Creek. Jim directed me to the very spring mentioned in the story, “halfway down the” now-paved road toward the lake. Sure enough, mint still grows around the spring. I took a few cuttings, and now I have some of that very mint growing at my home. Kinda neat, in an admittedly geeky way.
“Summer People” is the story of a night-time tryst between Nick and his girl, Kate. As I’ve noted, many of Hemingway’s fictional characters were based on people from his life. Kate was based on Katy Smith who, along with her brother Bill, were longtime friends of Hemingway (she went on to marry novelist, and Hemingway’s friend, John Dos Passos). People reading the story today will no doubt be offended when, after Nick and Kate make love, Nick brusquely tells her to “get dressed, slut.” Hemingway scholars acknowledge that this was a misprint; “slut” was actually “Stut,” one of Katy’s many nicknames. An inspection of the handwritten manuscript confirms this. But Hem wasn’t around to proof it (it was published posthumously).
It’s complicated, but Hemingway and his crowd were fond of nicknames. Hemingway (sometimes Hemingstein) became Weminghay became Wemedge, Carl Edgar became “Odgar,” and poor Katy somehow became Butstein, sometimes Stut. And here, as a final indignity, she’s reduced to “slut.” Oh, the humanity.
Hemingway’s “Summer People” friends. Left to right, Carl “Odgar” Edgar, Katy “Stut” Smith, his sister Marcelline Hemingway, Bill Horne, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Hopkins, circa 1919. Ernest Hemingway Photo Collection, John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, Boston.
The spring at Horton Bay, with the “close growing mint” surrounding the “forked stick.” The tin cup has been replaced by a blue enameled model. In the distance is Lake Charlevoix. Photo courtesy Christopher Struble, President, Michigan Hemingway Society.
Hemingway also mentions this same spring at the beginning of “The Last Good Country.” The story begins with Nick Adams “watching the bottom of the spring where the sand rose in small spurts with the bubbling water. There was a tin cup on a forked stick that was stuck in the gravel by the spring and Nick Adams looked at it and the water rising and then flowing clear in its gravel bed beside the road.” Nick “could see both ways on the road and he looked up the hill and then down to the dock and the lake, the wooded point across the bay and the open lake beyond …” If you visit today, you’ll see a cup hanging there on a forked stick, so if you want a little branch water for your bourbon, or if you want to mix yourself a Mint Julep, at Horton Bay you’re halfway there.
POSTSCRIPT: Sadly, James Hartwell passed away in March. He was a local legend, a great Hemingway buff and a fine man, he’ll be sorely missed. This year I’ll raise my mint julep to Jim.
[i] Carlos Baker, Ernest Hemingway, A Life Story, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, Inc., 1969), 214-15
[ii] Tillie Arnold, The Idaho Hemingway (Buhl, Idaho: Beacon Books, 1999), 86.
[iii] Ernest Hemingway, By-Line Ernest Hemingway (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1967), from a reproduction of an article in True magazine, The Shot, April 1951
[iv] Ernest Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway – Selected Letters, 1917-1961 , letter to General E.E. Dorman-O’Gowan, June 13, 1951 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1981), 729
[v] Dorice Taylor, Ski Magazine, Oct 1971
[vii] Lloyd Arnold, High on the Wild With Hemingway (Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Printers, Ltd., 1968), 54-55
[i] Lee Alan Gutkind, Hemingway’s Wyoming, Pittsburgh Press, February 21, 1971. Special thanks go to Chris Warren, owner of HemingwaysYellowstone.com, for tipping me off to this great story.