If I say, “mint julep” most Americans will reply “Kentucky Derby”. The cocktail has become synonymous with the first jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown. In May of 1982 I was in Louisville, Kentucky on the first Saturday in May to watch Gato del Sol finish first. I also experienced a mint julep for the first time; it was the worst thing about the day. I couldn’t finish the overly sweet mint and bourbon cocktail. There were many at Churchill Downs who also had a few too many making for another unfortunate association with the mint julep. Pair this with my antipathy for mint in perfume and you might perceive that I wasn’t jumping for joy when I received Imaginary Authors Saint Julep.
One thing which tempered my dread was the e-mail I received from Josh Meyer the perfumer behind Imaginary Authors. I don’t care for mint in fragrance because it evokes mouthwash, toothpaste, or dental floss. Mr. Meyer communicated to me that he also is not fond of that style of mint either. He wrote that, “I wanted it to smell like mint leaves”. My favorite mint perfumes are those which remember it is an herb before it becomes something on the end of a toothbrush. Even so the mint julep cocktail is a syrupy intense experience. So, mentioning all the ingredients of the cocktail were present in Saint Julep brought back some of the worry. What got me over all of this is Mr. Meyer’s ability to surprise which is what Saint Julep did.
Saint Julep is less about the cocktail and more about the American South and its ability to draw on its Gothic past to create a modern Southern Neo-Gothic. That focal point is the bourbon accord at the center of Saint Julep. The description from Mr. Meyer’s fictitious storyteller, Milton Nevers, goes like this, “On the outskirts of Clarksdale, Mississippi, at the end of a secluded dirt road sat a small ramshackle church. It was not a place of worship but rather where many went to seek refuge during impoverished times. Legend has it the structure was transported to the wild mint field by hand, hoisted on the shoulders of two dozen men. The outside remained simple and nondescript but the interior was aglow with pilfered neon signs, Christmas lights, and a jukebox donated by the sheriff’s son. It was a distinctly secular place where locals who knew where to find it could share moonshine, socialize, and dance their troubles away. They called their ramshackle juke joint Saint Julep and the oral histories compiled within paint a picture of that magical place where “the smiles was always free and salvation had the distinct smell of sweet mint.”
As promised, the mint arrives with its leafy, herbal nature moved forward. Instead of getting syrupy sweet Mr. Meyer instead dusts his mint leaves with crystalline sugar. It is not treacly sweet it is much more muted than that. What mutes it is the use of tangerine. Then magnolia provides a floral bridge to the bourbon accord. The bourbon adds an alcoholic bite along with its own version of sweet which dovetails with the sugared mint leaves. What is so surprising is this part of Saint Julep is light and refreshing; the polar opposite of a mint julep’s density. The base is an ingredient called grisalva which is an ambergris replacement aromachemical which also carries some leather aspects. It is a fine way to finish Saint Julep.
Saint Julep has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Saint Julep is going to be an excellent summer scent. Mr. Meyer has overcome every reservation I had going in. He has delivered a contemporary Southern classic.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Imaginary Authors.