The 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby revs up this Saturday at 6:34PM Eastern, and unfortunately, I’ll be working! –Working a beer festival, but nonetheless working.
The Mint Julep is such a perfect, classic and historic bourbon drink, it seems silly to wait until Derby day to have one. Of course, as any aficionado of spirits will tell you, there are as many right ways as wrong ways of making one.
The first step in my Mint Julep is making the simple syrup. I use the standard ratio of 1 cup of clean, filtered water to 1 cup of sugar, but I use an organic product like Woodstock Farms Organic Pure Cane Sugar. Place the sugar and water in a saucepan and heat until just boiling. I’ve found that it needs to reach this stage for the unbleached sugar to really dissolve. As soon as it starts to boil, remove the saucepan from the heat, and throw in a handful of freshly picked mint leaves. (I have mint growing all over my yard.) Stir to make sure the mint gets in there, and then leave the saucepan to cool to room temperature. Once it’s at room temp, strain out the mint leaves and pour the simple syrup into a bottle with a tight sealing lid, placing it in the refrigerator to cool. It will keep for about a week.
The next step is the tough part: the battle of the bourbons! The recent explosion of choices on the bourbon market has made it all but impossible for the average imbiber to know which bourbon is best for their tastes. My suggestion for this is to go to a trusted bartender and explain that you’re new to the bourbon world, and could you have the tiniest of tastes and sniffs of what he’s got at his bar. Chances are, you’ll get a sampling of some of the better known brands: Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve, perhaps Buffalo Trace or Bulleit, Basil Hayden, and the standard Jim Beam. This is a very good start. If you have deeper pockets, go to the manager of a trusted higher end liquor store and explain that you’ve had all the rest, now what does he think is the best? And of course, hinting to the wife and friends that “I’m trying new bourbons” around your birthday, Father’s Day, or the holidays inevitably gets you a few bottles as well! My personal favorites include Blanton’s, the now ridiculously overpriced Pappy Van Winkle, and a very reasonably priced ($32) Eagle Rare 10-year-old, my vote for best-bang-for-your-bourbon-buck.
A key ingredient for a perfect Mint Julep is crushed ice from clean, filtered water. Don’t even think of using tap water for any quality cocktail much less this one. Why ruin an expensive bottle of bourbon by going cheap on the ice? My home uses well water (no chlorine or flouride) and then my fridge filters the water before making ice, so I put the ice in a canvas ice bag and bash it to the perfect crushed size. (A thick Ziploc bag covered with a kitchen towel will work as well.) If you’ve got nasty city tap water and no filters installed, just buy a bag of good quality ice for this special occasion.
And a Mint Julep needs a metal–not glass– Julep cup. Made of pewter or aluminum, it frosts on the outside as you stir your drink, keeping your beverage ice-cold on even the hottest of days. You simply need to have one to make the perfect Mint Julep.
3 oz. bourbon (my go-to these days is Eagle Rare 10-year-old)
1 oz. mint-infused simple syrup
Fresh mint for garnish
Crush the ice and pack it into the Julep cup, letting it dome slightly over the top. Don’t worry…the alcohol will melt it.
I like to add a jigger of bourbon (1.5 oz.), then the shot of the mint-infused simple syrup (1 oz.), then another jigger of bourbon on top. Using a long spoon, stir the drink well. A beautiful layer of frost will form on the outside of the cup. Add more ice to replenish the dome and garnish with a sprig of mint.