The traditional beverage of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby for nearly a century has been the Mint Julep. Each year, almost 120,000 Mint Juleps are served over the two-day period of Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby weekend at Churchill Downs Racetrack. That’s a feat that requires more than 10,000 bottles of bourbon, 1,000 pounds of freshly harvested mint and 60,000 pounds of ice.
Bourbon is the quintessential American whiskey and the drink of choice for many Southerners. Made primarily in Kentucky, mostly from corn, when properly made, filtered, and aged, Bourbon can rival the finest Cognacs in richness, depth, and complexity.
Mint is a weed. Plant some now and you’ll be engulfed by it in two years. There are many types, so go to the plant store and pinch a few leaves. Pick the one you like the best.
Here is a sample recipe for a Mint Julep:
8 to 10 mint leaves
1 sprig of mint for garnish
1 tablespoon of sugar, more or less to taste
1 1/2 ounce clean fresh Kentucky spring water
3 ounces premium Bourbon
Optional: Replace the sugar with 1 ounce peach syrup.
Optional: Replace the water with seltzer to make it livelier.
Use a tumbler or Silver Mint Julep Cup.
1) Rinse the mint to make sure any dirt splashed on the underside of the leaves is gone. Don’t dry them. The moisture from the rinse is helpful in making the drink.
2) Put the leaves in a 12 ounce cocktail glass and pour the sugar on top. Muddle them together with a muddler or the handle of a wooden spoon. When the leaves and wet sugar begin to turn to a mushy paste, add the water and the bourbon, and stir with a fork until the sugar dissolves. Top with crushed ice, garnish with the sprig of mint, get your bets down, and serve.
To feel less guilty and for the health conscious, here is a recipe for mint julep melon bites:
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup packed fresh mint leaves and tender stems, plus whole sprigs for garnish
1/2 cup bourbon
2 cantaloupes peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
Juice of 1 lemon
In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup water and the sugar to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is reduced by half, about 15 minutes.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in 1/2 cup mint leaves and the bourbon. Cover and let steep for 1 hour.
Place the cantaloupes in a serving bowl. Strain the syrup over the melon; stir in the lemon juice to taste. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Top with mint sprigs.