The Kentucky Derby has been called the most exciting two minutes in sports. Humorist Irwin S. Cobb once famously said, “Until you go to Kentucky and with your own eyes behold the Derby, you ain’t never been nowhere and you ain’t seen nothin’!”. Grammar aside, it’s hard to make an argument against him.
However, with tickets running to above $15,000 per seat and hotels charging four times their usual rates for Derby weekend, a Derby party in the home may be a good alternative. With Covid still being an issue, perhaps some Derby accouterments and watching on TV are wise options. One way to get into the Derby mindset is to enjoy a Mint Julep.
Seldom in history has a cocktail been so closely associated with an event as is the Mint Julep to the Kentucky Derby. At the event itself, vendors hawk the drink all around the historic track, selling them in commemorative glasses that not only hold the potent cocktail but celebrate the history of the Derby itself.
Consisting of bourbon, sugar, water, crushed ice, and mint, the drink at first seems quite simple. A purist must then enter the debate of which bourbon, and then the real conversation gets started.
Most natives there are quick to let you know that 95% of the world’s bourbon whiskey comes from Kentucky, and the whiskey must be distilled in the United States to be called bourbon.
Bourbons run the gamut from the cheap, very mass-produced generic type brands up to ultra-expensive small-batch brands, distilled by craft style distillers. The choice for your Mint Julep is a matter of personal preference. Many bourbons are difficult, some almost impossible to acquire. Some are so desirable they are only available via an allocation system, so retailers reserve those for only their best customers.
The Mint Julep served at Churchill Downs is actually made from a mix. On Oaks and Derby Day alone, 10,000 bottles of Old Forester Mint Julep Ready-to-Serve Cocktail, 1,000 pounds of freshly harvested mint, and 60,000 pounds of ice are used to supply the 120,000 Mint Juleps served. Crushed ice is the only acceptable form for this unique beverage.
The Old Forester Mint Julep Recipe
Pack a mint julep cup with crushed ice. In a mixing glass, combine bourbon, syrup, and mint leaves. Lightly bruise mint leaves with a muddler, strain contents into a julep cup. Garnish with 3 generous sprigs of mint. *Make sure to slap mint and insert a straw into the ice near the mint.
If you opt for the more traditional route and eschew the syrup, then this Woodford Reserve recipe is as true to the original as possible.
Woodford Reserve Mint Julep
2 ounces Woodford Reserve
1 ounce water
4 sprigs of fresh mint
1 teaspoon sugar
In a copper julep cup, rub two pieces of fresh mint around the cup to express the oils.
Add Woodford Reserve, then the water and sugar, and stir with a bar spoon.
Add crushed ice to the top, then garnish with four sprigs of mint.