The Mint Julep
Is there anything more iconic than Mint Juleps at the Derby? We don’t think so. Generally folks are either in the “Love it” or “Hate it” group. It is a spirit forward bourbon cocktail and mint is not some folk’s cup of tea…or bourbon as it were. The trick to a perfect mint julep is in the execution. Crushed ice is a must. It freezes the outside of the glass and also dilutes the cocktail as you sip. Fresh mint is also required. When you go down to take a sip, you want the gorgeous fresh bouquet of mint to be the first thing you experience.
The mint syrup is equal parts sugar and water, brought to a boil until the sugar dissolves and then adding a hug handful of fresh mint to the pot. Remove from heat, cover the pot and let that syrup steep as long as possible. 24 hours is preferred. Strain the mint out and store the syrup in the fridge for up to a month.
Kentucky bourbon is an absolute must in this cocktail and we prefer Woodford Reserve bourbon, which is also the official bourbon of the mint julep at Churchill Downs.
.5 oz Mint SS
2 oz Woodford Reserve Bourbon
Place crushed ice in julep cup. Add mint syrup and bourbon to cup and stir. Mound more crushed ice on top of the cup. Garnish with fresh mint and a cocktail straw.
The following excerpt is from a letter written by General S.B. Buckley, Jr. in 1937 when asked for his Mint Julep recipe by one General Connor. It is a wonderful tongue and cheek recipe of a Mint Julep and is absolutely one of my very favorite recipes I have ever read. It illustrates precisely the ritual and tradition involved with the mint julep- not to be trusted to “a novice, a statistician, nor a Yankee”. While we might not be gathering fresh mint from the streams here, we will certainly be taking the same care when we propose a worthy toast and sip the nectar of the gods.
A mint julep is not the product of a FORMULA. It is a CEREMONY and must be performed by a gentleman possessing a true sense of the artistic, a deep reverence for the ingredients and a proper appreciation of the occasion. It is a rite that must not be entrusted to a novice, a statistician, nor a Yankee. It is a heritage of the old South, an emblem of hospitality and a vehicle in which noble minds can travel together upon the flower-strewn paths of happy and congenial thought.
So far as the mere mechanics of the operation are concerned, the procedure, stripped of its ceremonial embellishments, can be described as follows:
Go to a spring where cool, crystal-clear water bubbles from under a bank of dew-washed ferns. In a consecrated vessel, dip up a little water at the source. Follow the stream through its banks of green moss and wildflowers until it broadens and trickles through beds of mint growing in aromatic profusion and waving softly in the summer breezes. Gather the sweetest and tenderest shoots and gently carry them home. Go to the sideboard and select a decanter of Kentucky Bourbon, distilled by a master hand, mellowed with age yet still vigorous and inspiring. An ancestral sugar bowl, a row of silver goblets, some spoons and some ice and you are ready to start.
In a canvas bag, pound twice as much ice as you think you will need. Make it fine as snow, keep it dry and do not allow it to degenerate into slush.
In each goblet, put a slightly heaping teaspoonful of granulated sugar, barely cover this with spring water and slightly bruise one mint leaf into this, leaving the spoon in the goblet. Then pour elixir from the decanter until the goblets are about one-fourth full. Fill the goblets with snowy ice, sprinkling in a small amount of sugar as you fill. Wipe the outsides of the goblets dry and embellish copiously with mint.
Then comes the important and delicate operation of frosting. By proper manipulation of the spoon, the ingredients are circulated and blended until Nature, wishing to take a further hand and add another of its beautiful phenomena, encrusts the whole in a glittering coat of white frost. Thus harmoniously blended by the deft touches of a skilled hand, you have a beverage eminently appropriate for honorable men and beautiful women.
When all is ready, assemble your guests on the porch or in the garden, where the aroma of the juleps will rise Heavenward and make the birds sing. Propose a worthy toast, raise the goblet to your lips, bury your nose in the mint, inhale a deep breath of its fragrance and sip the nectar of the gods.
Being overcome by thirst, I can write no further.
S.B. Buckner, Jr.