One might say I’m late to the party when it comes to writing about the signature drink of the annual Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. However, that is far from the case. For a proper Mint Julep to be made at home by your average procrastinator, it’s going to take you close to a year to gather everything you need. Keep reading & you will soon realize this is no exaggeration. Money, sweat & sometimes even blood & tears will go into your authentic Mint Julep.
Let’s begin with where the Julep was first officially recorded. That would be within English dictionaries dating back to 1755, defining the Julep or variations of similar concoctions as an “extemporaneous form of medicine” or simply a “restorative tonic.” However, long before the English recorded version, the Persians served a “Gulab”, a chilled sweet beverage compared to sweetened Rosewater. The name Julep was derived from “Gulab.” Along the way, the Kentucky & Virginia region perfected the divine elixir by implementing a healthy dose of Bourbon & as of 1938, the Mint Julep became the signature drink of The Kentucky Derby. Well over 100,000 Mint Juleps are served during The Run For the Roses annually.
Now to move forth with regard to the aspect of money. Some are born with a Tiffany & Company Sterling Silver monogrammed rattle, others with the alleged “silver spoon” in their mouth. In horse country, you’re given your first Mint Julep Cup, customarily monogrammed or routinely inherited. The Julep Cup is unquestionably a symbol of wealth, achievement & prestige as they are traditionally used only at weddings, Christenings & of course the horse races! The most coveted is pure Sterling Silver, prices ranging from $600 to well over $1,500. From Sterling Silver, one can supplement with a plated silver Julep Cup, Pewter or Bronze. All still maintaining a fairly high price point. The original sleek & classic design we know & acknowledge today can be accredited to master Silversmiths Asa Blanchard of Lexington, Kentucky and brothers William & Archibald Cooper of Louisville, Kentucky, being first manufactured upon introduction in 1846.
The next passage being the explanation of sweat & the possibility of blood & tears! A proper Mint Julep absolutely requires crushed ice. Ones average household does not have a restaurant grade ice crusher on hand. Therefore, one can turn to the inexpensive & reliable Lewis Bag originating in the 1940’s. A Lewis Bag was originally intended as a coin purse, but now enjoys larger popularity when it comes to crushing ice with the paired Lewis Wood Mallet. Both the mallet & canvas bag are fairly inexpensive, easily found online & large enough to prepare enough ice for approximately 5 Mint Juleps at once. If you’re adamant on living on the wild side & increase the risk of injury, pop some ice in a plastic bag & have at it with a hammer!
Now for the recipe & the importance of proper preparation.
- Pre-chill the Julep Cup & do not handle the cup as it should be fingerprint free upon serving.
- Place 5-6 sprigs of clean, fresh mint in the base of the cup, paired with either 1 teaspoon of raw sugar or 1 teaspoon of simple syrup.
- Gently crush the mint & sugar together with a muddler, just enough to allow the aroma of the mint be noticeable & in order to mix the sugar within. Remember, you are not muddling the life out of the mint in a Mojito.
- Atop the mint, fill the Julep Cup to the top with finely crushed ice.
- Pour a generous 3 ounces of high end Bourbon over the ice. I personally would recommend the use of Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon.
- Stir briskly until the Julep cup further frosts, the Bourbon & mint/sugar mix is evenly distributed & then add further crushed ice to the top, forming a small mound atop the Julep Cup.
- As a garnish as well as to enhance the aroma of the cocktail, add a few good looking clean sprigs of mint to the top.
- Remember not to touch the Julep Cup & serve with a short straw.
- Do not make the common mistake of adding lime juice, club soda or using a low proof Bourbon.
- Not enough flavor? More Bourbon obviously!