Seeing as how the Kentucky Derby will be running for those roses this weekend, I feel it must be time to talk about the Mint Julep.

Why are they connected? Well, since about 1838 the Mint Julep has been the traditional refreshment of the Kentucky Derby. Popular all about the southern United States, it dates back to at least the mid 1700’s. Originally made with French Cognac, the more popular expression of this mix now uses Bourbon Whiskey. The Julep is also the very first cocktail that yours truly experienced, back when I was just a neophyte in the arena of spirits. It is a drink that I greatly enjoy and I hope you will as well.

Here is what you will need:

  • Several sprigs of Mint (spearmint is traditional)
  • 3 oz Bourbon
  • Crushed or Shaved Ice
  • Superfine Sugar or Simple Syrup

While you are perfectly capable of enjoying the drink from a rocks or highball glass, the Mint Julep is traditionally served in a dedicated pewter or silver julep cup. Choose your vessel and fill it with ice and set it aside. Take a mixing glass or tin and add either bar (superfine, not powdered) sugar or simple syrup. I prefer to err on the side of lightly sweet, and so I use a tablespoon or so. Separate about 10 leaves from the mint sprigs and place them in the bottom of the tin. Add a splash of water and muddle gently. Gently! You want to release the mint's essence, not the chlorophyll in the leaves. Add some ice to the mixing tin and then add your bourbon. Stir gently with a bar spoon for about 30 seconds. Remember your julep cup, filled with ice? The outside should be nicely frosty. Dump it out, getting rid of any meltwater. Then fill it about halfway with shaved ice, such as you'd use for a snow cone. (if you do not have access to that, crushed ice will do.) Using a strainer, traditionally a julep strainer, pour the bourbon into the julep cup. Take 1-3 sprigs of mint and slap them briskly across the back of your forearm. This will break open some of the cells and release the aroma of the mint. Place these sprigs into your cup so that they stand as a leafy bouquet. When you pick up the julep cup hold it by the base or the rim, so as to not tranfer too much body heat and melt the ice overfast. Head out to the porch, put your feet up and sip!

A note on the whiskey. The finer the bourbon, the finer the drink! However, you want to avoid high proof, aggressive bourbons as this is meant to be a sipping drink, not a punch to the palate. That said, my current choice would be a Bulleit, Elijah Craig or Buffalo Trace bourbon. Oh, and recall when I spoke about flavoring one's simple syrups? What does that suggest to you, hmm?

To your continued health!

Photo courtesy of Jing a Ling