Happy Monday! With the Kentucky Derby coming up on this Saturday, May 6th, today’s classic cocktail had to be none other than The Mint Julep. Introduced in the Commonwealth of Virginia in the 1800s, Frederick Marryat first mentions it in 1840 in his book Second Series of A Diary in America, where its ingredients included mint, sugar, ice, brandy, and pineapple rubbed on the rim of the glass. At around that same time Charles Dickens writes of having shared one with Washington Irving that was enormous and ringed with flowers. Credit is given to Henry Clay for bringing the drink to Washington DC during his time there as a senator, where it became a staple at the Round Robin Bar at the Willard Hotel. Churchill Downs made the Mint Julep the official drink of the Kentucky Derby in 1938, and that has remained the tradition right up until present day. There an unfortunate period during the 1950s when an abominable version of the Julep that consisted of nothing more than cold bourbon stirred with a peppermint stick reared its ugly head. Fortunately, it disappeared rather quickly. This Saturday at the Derby, somewhere around 120,000 Mint Juleps will be prepared from 10,000 bottles of Old Forester’s Ready-to-Serve, 1,000 pounds of mint, and 60,000 pounds of ice. Woodford Reserve also offers premium Mint Juleps served in gold-pated cups with silver straws, mint from Ireland, and ice from the Bavarian Alps. There’s also a commemorative box made from the oak used in bourbon barrels involved somewhere in this package. Maybe that makes you feel better about the $1000 -$2000 price tag. It’s worth noting, however,that a portion of the proceeds do go to charities for retired racehorses.
The drink itself falls into the category of a smash, as does the mojito, in which herbs, fruit, and other ingredients are muddled in the glass to release their essential oils into the drink. To prepare a Mint Julep, you’ll start out by gently muddling some mint leaves and sugar or simple syrup in the bottom of an old-fashioned glass, Collins glass, or a silver Julep cup. Keep the sugar to a minimum; somewhere around ¼ ounce is good. Add the bourbon in and pack the glass with crushed ice, stirring until it gets frosty. Pile more ice on top, garnish with some bitters (optional) and a mint sprig (not optional). And there you have a Mint Julep and you’re ready to sit down and watch the Kentucky Derby! If you are feeling particularly irreverent or rebellious this Saturday, you can make your Julep from something other than a bourbon from Kentucky, or you can make a Georgia Mint Julep which uses regular brandy and peach brandy as its base. Some of the Juleps served in the 1800s were made with Genever, a kind of a predecessor to modern gin, so that’s another option, as is rye whiskey. As always, feel free to put your own spin on it.
As an alternative to watching the Derby at home, you can join me at the bar at Cooper River Distillers where we’ll be celebrating Derby Day from 1 pm until 8 pm!
The Mint Julep
2 oz Cooper’s Craft Kentucky Straight Bourbon
¼ oz simple syrup
8 mint leaves
Muddle the mint gently with the simple syrup in the bottom of an old-fashioned glass or a silver Julep cup. Add the bourbon and crushed ice and stir until the glass becomes frosty. Add more crushed ice on top. Garnish with Angostura bitters and a mint sprig. Happy Derby Day!
On Wednesday I have something special planned for you. The next sign that’s up in the Wednesday cocktail series is none other than Virgo, those impeccable fashionistas of the Zodiac who embrace perfectionism, logic, and clear-headed thinking, just a few of their immeasurable virtues. I could go on and on. Virgo is, of course, my very own sign and since I’m apparently not to be trusted to present it objectively, my daughter Wendy is stepping in as a guest blogger for the day! I’ll still be making the cocktail; I’m just not allowed to write.