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The perfect mint julep

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The classic Mint Julep has been synonymous with the Kentucky Derby since 1938, and although its 4-ingredient recipe is simple, one’s taste for this concoction may vary as much as the horses that run for the roses.

By Todd Martin

If you’d like to get a mint julep at your favorite bar, you better cash in this week. This Southern staple can be hard to locate at any time other than that because a lot of bars don’t normally stock mint. And without mint all you have is, well, bourbon and sugar.

Churchill Downs, liquor stores and bourbon distilleries want you to believe the premixed concoctions they’re selling are just as good as the basic ingredients, but, let’s be honest, nothing beats that simple blend of sugar, fresh mint, crushed ice and good bourbon.

What started as a quest to find the best mint julep in Shelby County, ended with me mixing my own drinks with mint fresh from my grandmother’s garden.

After hitting five local restaurants over the weekend looking for a mint julep, I found that none had mint in stock. Not surprisingly they were all well stocked with bourbon.

Several bartenders were eager and ready to serve the drink and chat about bourbon and horses, but most noted that their mint shipments wouldn’t be in until later this week.

So with the help of a crack tasting staff – which included my father – I’ve pulled three recipes, added a slight twist and found what’s just right for one single drink, another that serves the masses and a third that for those that might be a little afraid of bourbon.

The keys are crushed ice, good – but not the toppest of top shelves, something along the lines of Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve, Knob Creek or Four Roses small batch will work very well – bourbon and that fresh mint. The twist I like is using raw sugar, either to make simple syrup or just for straight sugar, to cut down on the sweetness a little.

And, if all else fails, follow Henry Watterson’s recipe. Watterson – famous for his time as a Pulitzer Prize-winning editor at The Courier-Journal and, of course, for his expressway in Louisville – has the best, and possibly most famous, mint julep recipe:

“Pluck the mint gently from its bed, just as the dew of the evening is about to form on it. Select the choicer sprigs only, but do not rinse them. 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.”

A single drink, for those who enjoy bourbon

3 sprigs of mint plus 3 large leaves

1 tsp. of raw sugar

3 oz. of bourbon

Plenty of crushed ice

Put the mint leaves and raw sugar in the bottom of a julep cup, silver if possible, and muddle – use a muddler or back of a wooden spoon – until the leaves are bruised and the sugar is mostly crushed. Fill the cup three quarters with crushed ice. Add bourbon and stir vigorously. Lightly bruise the mint sprigs to ensure a full nose of mint aroma when sipping. Tuck sprigs into cup and top off cup with crushed ice. The outside of the julep cup should be iced over by the time you are ready to drink.

Enjoy!

 

For the masses

  • 20 to 30 sprigs of mint plus several large leaves torn off and to the side
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup raw sugar
  • 1 bottle of bourbon
  • Kentucky Derby glasses from years past
  • Plenty of crushed ice

Make simple syrup by bringing water to a boil and adding sugar. Remove from heat and stir till until sugar dissolves (This can be made up to a week ahead. Put in glass container with lid and refrigerate).

Put 3 large mint leaves in the bottom of each glass. Muddle leaves just before making julep. Fill the Derby glass three quarters of the way with crushed ice, and add 2 tbs. of simple syrup and 3 ounces of bourbon and stir vigorously. Lightly bruise the mint sprigs to ensure a full nose of mint aroma when sipping. Tuck sprigs into cup and top off cup with crushed ice. The outside of the julep cup should be iced over by the time you are ready to drink.

Makes several juleps.

Enjoy!

 

For someone not really sure about bourbon

* Recipe from the official Mint Julep of Maker’s Mark

  • 3 sprigs of mint plus 3 large leaves
  • 2 tbs. simple syrup (see recipe above)
  • 1.5 oz bourbon
  • Plenty of crushed ice

Put 3 large mint leaves in the bottom of glass. Muddle leaves and fill the Derby glass three quarters of the way with crushed ice. Add 2 tbs. simple syrup and 1.5 ounces bourbon and stir vigorously. Lightly bruise the mint sprigs to ensure a full nose of mint aroma when sipping. Tuck sprigs into cup and top off cup with crushed ice. The outside of the julep cup should be iced over by the time you are ready to drink.

Enjoy!