The pageantry. The tradition. The hats. This weekend represents the first major event in horse racing, The Kentucky Derby. Not only is it a huge event in the horse racing season, it is the first jewel in the Triple Crown. People come from far and wide to Louisville, KY to see the “most exciting two minutes in sports”. And while they are there, they consume 120,000 of what is considered the drink of the Kentucky Derby, and the south in general, the mint julep.
While the mint julep has been associated with the Derby since 1938, the history of the drink goes back further than that. The word “julep” comes from the Persian word “golab”, which is a sweetened rose water, sometimes used as a health tonic. There are some mentions of it in books at the beginning of the 19th century, and Oxford University has been celebrating a Mint Julep Day, around the first of June, since 1845. The ingredients of the cocktail have also morphed over the years, starting as a brandy based drink, and then switching to rye whiskey before finally arriving at the spirit of Kentucky, bourbon. It is the bourbon version of it that we will all be sipping on this weekend.
In the hot and muggy south, there is no question how this drink became so popular. It is served well chilled, not only with crushed ice instead of ice cubes, but in a chilled metal glass. The glass is also designed to be held around the base, so body heat does not leach any of the chill from the beverage. The mint, which is present but not overwhelming, adds to the frosty feel on your palate. And of course, the star of the show is the bourbon, sweet and delicious. If you want to truly make the official cocktail of the Kentucky Derby, you will be using Early Times (which is actually a Kentucky whisky) or Woodford Reserve. If you want to go all out, serve it in a gold cup with a silver straw, and charge $1000 for it. Yes, that happens.
Below is A recipe for the mint julep. You can search the web far and wide, and you will find variations of it all over. This variation was the most common, and the simplest to prepare.
The Mint Julep
2 sprigs of mint, preferably spearmint
.75 oz. simple syrup (recipe included)
2.5 oz. bourbon (Early Times whisky or Woodford Reserve for the official version)
Muddle one sprigful of mint leaves at the bottom of a mixing glass in the simple syrup, crushing the leaves but not tearing them. You are just looking to release the oil in the leaves. Add your bourbon, swirl it a few times, then strain the contents into a frosted glass filled with crushed ice. The thinner the glass, the better it will frost over. Stir the contents, and then add more crushed ice to top it off. Hold the glass at the bottom, to make sure the glass and contents stay properly cold.
1 cup of water
1 cup of sugar
Combine the water and sugar a pan, and mix over medium heat until all the sugar is dissolved. You can make smaller quantities in a similar 1:1 ratio. See, simple.
(Original publish date: 5/7/2011)