Dear Fancy Bar Chef,
The Kentucky Derby is coming up on May 5. My wife and I are hosting a watch party at our house, and I want to make some real mint juleps. Can you tell me how to do that?
Craig in Columbia
I can help you throw a most successful party featuring mint juleps. The famed cocktail, known as the official beverage of the Kentucky Derby, has a hazy history — as do many classic cocktails. I guess the people responsible for its origins probably drank too many and forgot to write it down.
“Julep” originates from an Arabic word meaning “rose water” and is often used for cocktails that are sweetened with sugars or spices. Juleps were originally used as medicine (sans mint), and many written accounts describe the sheer joy felt by users as they imbibed. Medicine or libation? Well, that’s up to you.
The mint julep became Churchill Down’s signature drink in 1938 when it was served in souvenir glasses for 75 cents. According to the Derby Museum, more than 120,000 mint juleps are served at the track during the Kentucky Derby.
Today, the mint julep is made by muddling fresh mint leaves with sugar and a little water. Add crushed ice, good ol’ bourbon, and then shake until cold. Pour into a 12-ounce sterling silver “julep cup.” Don’t have the classic set? Your favorite glass will do just fine. Top with soda water and a smart sprig of mint. Enjoy!
The Mint Julep
8–10 mint leaves (more or less to your taste)
1½ teaspoons sugar (or 1½ ounces simple syrup)
A splash of water
2½ ounces bourbon (I like Makers Mark)
Muddle together mint, sugar and water in a cocktail shaker until sugar dissolves. Extracting the essential oils out of the leaves takes a few minutes, so don’t get discouraged!
Add crushed ice (regular cubes are OK) and bourbon.
Shake, and then pour “in the rough” (no straining) into your favorite glass. Top with soda water and a sprig of mint for garnish.