Happy Derby Week, y'all! Kentucky Derby 141 is almost here, and HerKentucky has a series of tips that will help you do Derby like a local. Today, we're talking about the Kentucky Derby's signature cocktail, the mint julep!
Mint juleps are one of the most iconic things about the Kentucky Derby. Oddly, they're among the most divisive, too. Some folks find the signature blend of Kentucky bourbon whiskey, simple syrup, and muddled mint to be a refreshing spring cocktail, while others consider it a waste of good bourbon. I love a julep around Derby Day, while my beau cites legendary Louisville newspaperman Henry Watterson's recipe: "Pluck the mint gently from its bed, just as the dew of the evening is about to form upon it ... 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."
Whether you love or hate the drink, it's pretty much a rule that you have to know how to make a mint julep if you're entertaining folks around Derby time.
The first thing you need to do is decide on a julep cup. A silver julep cup is, of course, the traditional way to go. I recently had a chance to talk to Matt Burnett of Wakefield-Scearce Galleries. For Matt, the julep cup is, quite literally, the family business. His grandfather, Mark Scearce, was a jeweler turned silversmith who was originally drawn to julep cup design while buying up coin silver during the World War II silver shortage. Over the years, Mr. Scearce developed a unique design that incorporates an English-style watermark and a seal denoting the current U.S. President. Silver julep cups are stunning, of course, but I asked Matt whether it was a lot of work to constantly polish a set. "Not if you use them often!" was his quick response. "Frequent use keeps them shiny!"
When it comes to bourbon, I always advise people to stick to what they personally like to drink. After all, a mint julep is just like any other cocktail, and comes down to personally preference. Of course, you should keep that within reason; it's a travesty to mix 23-year Pappy Van Winkle with anything. Woodford Reserve or Maker's Mark are always good. Old Forester makes for a delicious cocktail. (That's what the track is using this year!)
Another consideration is your mint -- most recipes call for Kentucky Colonel. This year, I picked up a Chocolate Mint varietal as well; can't wait to see how the flavors vary!
Of course, you can get as fancy or as simple with your sugar for the simple syrup as you like. I use demerara sugar for a little more complex flavor.
Classic Mint Julep Recipe
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 cups water
- Sprigs of fresh mint
- Crushed ice
- Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey (your favorite brand is the best!)
Make a simple syrup by boiling sugar and water together for five minutes. Cool and place in a covered container with six or eight sprigs of fresh mint, then refrigerate overnight. Make one julep at a time by filling a julep cup with crushed ice, adding one tablespoon mint syrup and two ounces of Kentucky bourbon. Stir rapidly with a spoon to frost the outside of the cup. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.
Have a great Derby Week! Cheers, y'all!