Front-page story from France said wine is good...


June 22, 1992|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

A RECENT front-page story from France said wine is good for the heart. The alcohol dilates blood vessels.

So what else is new? Forty-four years ago The Sun reported at length on the scientific argument that mint juleps -- bourbon, sugar water, mint and, usually, lots of ice -- are good for the heart.

The summer solstice being the start of the mint julep season in Maryland,* let me expand on that.

A Texas physician made the 1948 claim for mint juleps. This led to a newspaper debate between two local doctor-educators. Dr. William S. Love Jr. of the University of Maryland said a mint julep would be more beneficial than most alcoholic drinks because "it takes a long time to sip and would be less shock to the stomach."

No, said Dr. E. W. Bridgman of the Hopkins. "Too powerful, almost entirely alcohol."

Bridgman must have made his mint juleps the way the Louisville editor, Henry Watterson, did: "Pluck the mint gently from its bed, just as the dew of the evening is about to form upon it. Select the choicer sprigs only, but do not rinse them. Prepare the simple syrup and measure out a half-tumbler of whiskey. Pour the whiskey into a well-frosted silver cup, throw the other ingredients away and drink the whiskey."

Kentucky claims the mint julep as its own, but it certainly didn't create it. Charles Stein Jr.'s history of Calvert County says the drink was first concocted there by Col. Henry Jowles. The definitive history ("The Mint Julep," by Richard Harwell) says Virginians first began putting mint and crushed ice in their corn whiskey or rye or rum. Then it spread to Maryland and eventually Kentucky.

Speaking of colonels, here is Kentucky's favorite mint julep toast: "To Kentucky, where the corn is full of kernels and the colonels full of corn."

I prefer Virginia's toast. It's more American. It was written by John Reuben Thompson, a Richmond scholar, for delivery at the Old Dominion Society in New York on the eve of the Civil War:

". . . Virginia's own libation,/A whiskey julep is the drink/That typifies the nation!/. . . Here North and South and East and West/Are met in sweet communion -- /Now drain this cup -- this toast is best,/VIRGINIA AND THE UNION!"

The greatest mint julep drinker of all time was Ruby Laffoon. He probably made the nation Kentucky conscious in re mint juleps. He was the governor of Kentucky in the 1930s who commissioned 17,000 colonels for his staff. He became a national character because of that. So when Prohibition ended, everybody asked him for a quote. He gave 'em this: "I am one of the driest of the Drys, but I have had 18 mint juleps today and every one tasted best."

* Earlier farther south. The official season begins, according to the P.G.T. Beauregard Marching and Burial Society, on the general's birthday, May 28.

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