Enjoy a classic mint julep to celebrate the Kentucky Derby. With only 4 ingredients, it’s quick, easy, and best enjoyed the first Saturday of May.
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Tomorrow marks the 142nd Run for the Roses: The Kentucky Derby, aka the “greatest two minutes in sports.” Being raised in Kentucky, the first Saturday in May will always hold a special place in my heart.
The race is one and a quarter miles long and is run by only 3 year old thoroughbred horses. The derby is dominated by colts (young male horses), but since the race began in 1875, three fillies (young female horses) have taken home the winning purse.
While my facebook feed fills with pictures of friends dressed up, men in their seersucker suits and ladies in their hats, I am celebrating from afar. I can think of no better way to do it than with a mint julep in my hand and my own derby hat on my head.
The mint julep was created sometime during the 18th century and has formally been associated with the Kentucky Derby since 1940 when Churchill Downs launched the collectible glasses, which are updated with new winners each year.
The ingredients are simple: crushed or shaved ice, simple syrup, fresh mint (preferably spearmint), and Kentucky bourbon.
When it comes to the bourbon, Woodford Reserve is the official bourbon of the race, but every bourbon drinking Kentuckian has their own opinion on what bourbon is best for the mint julep. My personal preference is Basil Hayden’s or Four Roses. If the label indicates that the contents came from Tennessee, Scotland, or Canada, it simply will not do.
The simple syrup needs to be made at least an hour in advance so that it has time to cool. Take equal parts sugar and water – in the recipe I suggest using 1 cup of each – and heat it over high heat stirring occasionally. Once the sugar dissolves it’s done. It doesn’t necessarily need to come to a boil and it should not reduce in volume.
Allow the syrup to cool on the counter for 10 – 15 minutes, then place in the fridge to cool completely before use – at least 45 minutes.
The ice for a classic mint julep must be crushed or shaved in order to melt quickly and water down the bourbon.
Large chunks of ice melt too slowly and you end up drinking bourbon on the rocks with mint instead of a mint julep.
If you have an ice dispenser with a crush feature, you are in luck. If you don’t, you can buy crushed ice or do what I do. Place ice cubes in a zip top bag, cover it with a kitchen towel, and crush with a wooden mallet.
For those of you hosting a party, I suggest setting up a classic mint julep bar. Designate a space with the following:
- a bowl of crushed ice
- the simple syrup with a measuring spoon
- fresh mint in water
- an extra glass half filled with water to hold the spoons that are used for muddling and mixing. (It keeps people from using a new spoon for every drink and keeps the space from becoming a sticky mess.)
- Enough old fashioned glasses for all of your guests.
Old fashioned glasses are the short ones that hold between 6 – 10 ounces. The ones pictured hold 8 ounces. You can also use a highball glass, a collins glass, or really any other glass that holds between 6 – 12 ounces. If you want to get fancy, you can order the official 2016 Derby Glass or a fancy nickel plated mint julep cup.
To assemble your mint julep: Tear off 3 – 4 mint leaves, rip them into 2 -3 pieces and place in the bottom of the glass. Add in a spoon full of ice and muddle the mint and ice together. This helps to release the mint oils into the drink.
Add ice to fill the glass all the way to the top. Pour in 1 tablespoon of simple syrup, then add 3 ounces of bourbon. Stir until glass is cold and condensation begins to form on the outside. Top with more ice and an additional spring of mint. Serve immediately.
The first sip is always bracing, but as the ice melts the bourbon mellows out.
Measurements of the bourbon and simple syrup can be adjusted based on your preferences and the size of glass you choose to use. If you prefer a sweeter julep, add an extra tablespoon of simple syrup, if you prefer one less strong use a larger glass with more ice.
Mint juleps are strong and are made to be sipped. Please drink responsibly.
If you’d like to learn more about the world of Kentucky Bourbon, check out my favorite bourbon resource: The Bourbon Review.
Classic Mint Julep Bar
Classic Mint Julep Bar
Simple Syrup - Yield 1 cup
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup white sugar
The Mint Julep - Yield approximately 8 - 8 ounce servings
- 1 bunch of fresh mint leaves - preferably spearmint
- 10 - 12 cups of crushed or shaved ice more if it's a hot day
- 1 cup simple syrup see above
- 1 750 ml bottle of Kentucky bourbon
The Simple Syrup
- **The simple syrup needs to be made at least an hour in advance so that it has time to cool.**
- Take 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water. Heat over high heat stirring occasionally.
- It doesn't need to boil. Once the sugar dissolves it's done.
- Allow the syrup to cool on the counter for 10 - 15 minutes, then place in the fridge to cool completely before use - at least 45 minutes.
To Assemble the Mint Juleps
- Tear off 3 - 4 mint leaves, rip them into 2 -3 pieces and place in the bottom of the glass.
- Add in a spoon full of ice and muddle the mint and ice together to release the mint oils.
- Add ice to fill the glass all the way to the top.
- Pour in 1/2 ounce of simple syrup, then add 3 ounces of bourbon.
- Stir until glass is cold and condensation begins to form on the outside.
- Top with more ice and an additional spring of mint. Serve immediately.
The exact amounts indicated in the assembly instructions are for 1 - 8 ounce classic mint julep.
The amounts listed in the bar set up will make 8 - 8 ounce mint juleps.
The total amounts needed to set up your own mint julep bar will vary based on the number of guests attending. Estimate 1.5 total drinks per guest, per hour. Please drink responsibly.