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As thousands of gentlemen, scholars and judges of good whisky gather in Louisville this Derby week, most of the talk will be about horses, and practically all of it will be over a drink. Traditionally, the drink will be bourbon whisky, one of 30 different kinds of whisky recognized by the federal government, which closely regulates the whisky business. It is called bourbon after Bourbon County, Kentucky, where a lot of it has been distilled and ingested since D. Boone kilt a bar in the vicinity.
A proper mint julep
Despite all the argument, there is only one way to make a proper mint julep:
Take a dipper of water from a limestone spring and dissolve enough granulated sugar in it to give it a fine, oily texture, then set it aside. Take a goblet of sterling silver (or, in an emergency, a tumbler of cut crystal) and a single medium-sized leaf of mint, selected for succulent tenderness and plucked from the living plant not more than 10 minutes before. Using the back of a sterling silver spoon, bruise the leaf gently yet purposefully against the inside of the goblet and heap full of fairly fine-cracked ice made from limestone spring water. Pour straight bourbon whisky slowly into the goblet, letting it trickle through the ice at its leisure, until the vessel is almost full. After this has set for one minute, add the sugared water until the goblet threatens to overflow. Garnish the rim of the goblet with three sprigs of freshly picked mint. Do not stir. Let stand in a cool springhouse, or in a refrigerator, until the frosting on the goblet or tumbler is 3/32nds of an inch in thickness. Sip slowly, but don't use a straw. Between sips, think of a loved one.
Formula for whisky
Proof of the bourbon
Those neutral spirits
Water and character
All whisky comes from the still at a higher proof than is practical for drinking purposes; to make it potable, the distiller adds distilled water. The only difference between 86 proof whisky and 90 or 100 proof whisky may be the amount of water that was added before bottling—and the price. But whisky that comes from the still at a low proof—say 150—will have more "body" and "character" than whisky distilled at a higher proof.