Evolution of the Mint Julep

Ok, so the Kentucky Derby (horse race) is now over. American Pharaoh won and horse fans move on to the next race: the Preakness in Maryland and finally to the third leg of the U.S. Triple Crown, Belmont Stakes in New York.

I was in North Carolina over the Derby weekend visiting family and wanted to bring a truly American element to a dinner party of visiting Israeli professors.  As expected they did not know about the Kentucky Derby but were very willing to learn about the festivities involved….the drinking.  I purchased the 141st race collector-bottle of Woodford Reserve bourbon and the party was on.

As a northerner, my making of a mint julep can be very irreverent to the original, so I thought I should aim high and authentic for this special weekend. There were three recipes from which to choose:

I went back to the oldest recipe I have first. One taken from the Harry Johnson Bartender’s Manual, which was originally published in 1992. This one needs a bit of translation from old terminology to today, but most of us bartenders (and wannabe’s) can get the gist.

1 small table-spoon of sugar, 1/2 wine glass of water or selters, 3 or 4 sprigs of fresh mint. Dissolve with sugar and water, until flavor of the mint is well extracted; then take out the mint and add 1 1/2 wine-glass of brandy. Fill glass with shaved ice,, stir well, then take sprigs of mint and insert them in the ice. Ornament with berries, pineapple and orange on top, dash with a little Jamaican rum and sprinkle with a little sugar on top. Serve with a straw.

Option two is a modified version of a Irvin S. Cobb recipe.

Take a clean glass and crush a few sprigs of mint with a spoon. Rub the mint all around the inside of the glass, then throw mint away. Fill same glass with finely cracked ice. SLOWLY pour in a measure of bourbon, add two tablespoons of water in which a lump of sugar has been dissolved. DO NOT STIR. Place sprigs of fresh mint in the mouth of the glass.

Option three is taken from a modern recipe by the Mittie Hellmich Ultimate Bar Book.

Traditional Southern-Style Mint Julep: 4 ounces Kentucky bourbon, 1 teaspoon simple syrup, 4-6 mint sprigs. Pour liquid ingredients into a julep cup or Collins glass filled with crushed ice. Stir well until glass is frosty. Garnish with the mint sprigs. Serve with a straw.

In the end, a hybrid version won out, partially due to a lack of on-hand ingredients and no interest in running back out to the store!

My recipe. Serves 4. Flute glasses. Fill with ice. In a glass container mix 4 double shots of Woodford Reserve Bourbon, 1 double shot of simple syrup made with Florida Crystals, an organic Florida cane sugar and a 1/2 teaspoon of mint extract. In the ice-filled fluted glasses add a 1/2 slice of fresh lemon and 1/2 slice of an orange. Pour the bourbon mix in each glass and decorate with fresh mint sprig on top. No straws involved.

The drinks worked out well, the dinner was wonderful and it was a relaxing evening and fabulous opportunity to meet new friends. To more evenings of celebratory drinks with friends, I raise a glass.