One of the items on the Chic Dad’s bucket list has been to get to see the Kentucky Derby in person. There’s just something about the thought of Erika in a big hat, me in a seer sucker suit, and both of us with frosty Mint Juleps in our hands to watch the ponies. But this is not our year to catch the Derby in person, and if you’re staying put and hosting your own Kentucky Derby party you’ll need an authentic Mint Julep to make your soiree official. So I’ve taken it upon myself to comb the Interwebs and come up with what you need to know to make the perfect Mint Julep for your Derby day party.
What? The Perfect Mint Julep for the Kentucky Derby (May 5, 2012)
What’s Chic? Pretend you’re at the Downs with the sweet smell of Mint and Bourbon under your nose.
What’s Weak? Anything but the drink. It’s almost all straight booze, so give someone else the keys if you’re enjoying one.
The Mint Julep is more than just a Derby drink in our household. You see, the Mint Julep is just as at home in the Big Easy as it is in Churchill Downs. In fact, a Mint Julep is truly a Southern tradition, and the exact way to make a perfect one brings out heated debates and opinions from all over the south. With such a beloved drink, everyone has an opinion on whether to use Rye or Whiskey, how to crush the ice, which mint leaves to use and how much muddling is too much. With this drink, even the length of the straw matters.
Esquire captures some of the history of the storied Mint Julep:
Just about every state in Dixie had its own sacrosanct way of handling the mint, the sugar, the ice, the booze. Duels were fought. Names were called.
Brushing aside all the tedious to-and-fro about brandy, rum, and rye (before the War between the States, a true southern gentleman would be hanged before he’d let whiskey pass his lips, and even after, when standards had slipped, no Marylander would build his julep with anything but rye), it’s that mint that caused most of the trouble.
As a former barkeep myself, I was taught the key to a good Mint Julep was three things: a chilled glass, simple syrup, and lots of mint. Combine that with a great Bourbon and you were in business. But as a Yankee, I’m sure we missed out on the subtleties that make for the perfect Julep. So where better to look for that perfect Mint Julep recipe than the place that makes them famous every year? The Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, Kentucky. Here’s the recipe for the Early Times Mint Julep on the Kentucky Derby website:
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
Sprigs of fresh mint
Early Times Kentucky Whisky
Silver Julep Cups
1. Make a simple syrup by boiling sugar and water together for five minutes.
2. Cool and place in a covered container with six or eight sprigs of fresh mint, then refrigerate overnight.
3. Make one julep at a time by filling a julep cup with crushed ice, adding one tablespoon mint syrup and two ounces of Early Times Kentucky Whisky.
4. Stir rapidly with a spoon to frost the outside of the cup. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.
But that recipe doesn’t really go into the care and thoughtfulness that’s required to make a perfect Mint Julep. Luckily, Bill Samuels comes to our rescue. If you don’t know who Bill Samuels is, you’re not familiar with bourbon. Bill Samuels is the former President of Maker’s Mark, one of the finest bourbons made. He ran the company for 35 years, so he knows a thing or two about how to make the perfect Mint Julep. He was on The Food Network to show everyone just what goes into making the perfect Mint Julep, and you can watch the clip here:
And here’s the recipe for the perfect Mint Julep from that show:
4 cups bourbon
2 bunches fresh spearmint
1 cup distilled water
1 cup granulated sugar
1. To prepare mint extract, remove about 40 small mint leaves. Wash and place in a small bowl. Cover with 3 ounces bourbon. Allow the leaves to soak for 15 minutes. Then gather the leaves in paper toweling. Thoroughly wring the mint over the bowl of whisky. Dip the bundle again and repeat the process several times.
2. To prepare simple syrup, mix 1 cup of granulated sugar and 1 cup of distilled water in a small saucepan. Heat to dissolve sugar. Stir constantly so the sugar does not burn. Set aside to cool.
3. To prepare mint julep mixture, pour 3 1/2 cups of bourbon into a large glass bowl or glass pitcher. Add 1 cup of the simple syrup to the bourbon.
4. Now begin adding the mint extract 1 tablespoon at a time to the julep mixture. Each batch of mint extract is different, so you must taste and smell after each tablespoon is added. You are looking for a soft mint aroma and taste-generally about 3 tablespoons. When you think it’s right, pour the whole mixture back into the empty liter bottle and refrigerate it for at least 24 hours to “marry” the flavors.
5. To serve the julep, fill each glass (preferably a silver mint julep cup) 1/2 full with shaved ice. Insert a spring of mint and then pack in more ice to about 1-inch over the top of the cup. Then, insert a straw that has been cut to 1-inch above the top of the cup so the nose is forced close to the mint when sipping the julep.
6. When frost forms on the cup, pour the refrigerated julep mixture over the ice and add a sprinkle of powdered sugar to the top of the ice. Serve immediately.
So whether you’re in the Big Easy, Churchill Downs, or at home, now you know the secret to making the perfect Mint Julep. With that, your Kentucky Derby party is complete, and you’ve got a great story to tell your dapper guests about the sweet drinks under their nose, complete with the perfect-length straws and perfectly crushed ice. They’ll be impressed, and you’ll be known as the Derby host with the most. And if you’re up for it, you can even try out the community edition of the Mint Julep!
How do you make your Mint Juleps? Let us know in the comments. And if you make these, report back and let us know how they went over!