Wondering how to make a mint julep for Derby Day?
Well, there are as many ways to make a mint julep as there are combinations of odds on the field of horses running in the Kentucky Derby. Maybe more.
For nearly a century, the mint julep has been the traditional beverage of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby. Between 80,000 and 120,000 mint juleps are served there over the two-day period of the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby. But those are made with a mix. The horror.
The most traditional method is to individually muddle mint and sugar into a silver or pewter cup, then add crushed ice and bourbon. But I like to simplify by pouring bourbon in a big pitcher, and muddling the mint right in that. I was pleased to discover, in an article from an old Gourmet magazine from the early 1990s, that (now retired) Maker’s Mark president Bill Samuels approves of my method.
I make myself a batch of simple syrup — that’s equal amounts of sugar and water, melted together and then cooled — and I go out in the garden and pick a big bunch of mint. (If you grow mint, you know that’s never a problem. If you don’t, there’s always the grocery store.)
To make the drinks, you add some simple syrup to the minted bourbon, then chill and mix in a cocktail shaker. Pour it over a glass of crushed ice, then top the julep with a little seltzer and garnish with a big mint sprig.
By the time the announcer says: “And, they’re off,” you’ll be sipping an honest-to-goodness julep with the scent of mint tickling your nose. And odds are, you’ll be happy, even if your horse doesn’t win, place or show.
Mint Juleps for a Crowd
Serves 4 (you can double or triple, even)
1 big bunch mint, tops cut off and reserved for garnish
1 1/2 cups bourbon
Simple syrup (1:1)
Pour the bourbon into a pitcher and throw the bottom part of the mint in it. Muddle the mint to release the oils and let it macerate for at least 10 minutes and up to half an hour. While you’re waiting, crush the ice.
Sweeten the minty bourbon to taste by pouring in simple syrup. Start small; you can always add more, but you can’t take it away.
Fill 4 lowball glasses (or pewter cups if you have them) with crushed ice.
Strain the bourbon mixture into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into the glass, leaving enough room at the top for club soda. Top with club soda and garnish with a couple of big fat sprigs of mint. You want them to tickle your nose.
3 ounces Maker’s Mark bourbon
6 sprigs mint
2 to 4 tablespoons simple syrup
Mint for garnish
Mix bourbon, mint and simple syrup in a pint glass. Add 3 pieces of ice and muddle for about a minute. Let stand for several minutes. Strain into glass filled with shaved ice. Top with soda water and a mint sprig. For a mintier version, remove the three pieces of ice, leave the mint, and pour all ingredients into the glass followed by fresh ice.
Woodford Reserve Mint Julep
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
Sprigs of fresh mint
Silver julep cups
Make a simple syrup by boiling sugar and water together for five minutes. Cool and place in a covered container with 6 or 8 sprigs of fresh mint, then refrigerate overnight. Make one julep at a time by filling a julep cup with crushed ice, adding 1 tablespoon mint syrup and 2 ounces of Kentucky bourbon. Stir rapidly with a spoon to frost the outside of the cup. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.
The Bewitching Mint Julep
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup water
2 cups chopped fresh mint sprigs
1 1/2 ounces (1 jigger) bourbon per julep, or to taste
Garnish: Long mint sprigs
In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the chopped mint and let the mixture stand for at least 2 hours and up to 4 hours.
Strain the syrup through a fine sieve into a jar or small bowl, pressing hard on the mint solids to extract all the mint essence. Discard the solids and let the syrup cool. The syrup may be made up to 2 weeks in advance and kept covered and chilled in the refrigerator. (The syrup will darken, but this will not affect the taste.) For each julep, fill a silver cup or 10-ounce glass with some of the crushed ice. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of the mint syrup, or to taste, and 1 1/2 ounces of bourbon. Stir the julep with a long spoon or stirrer very rapidly. Garnish each julep with a long mint sprig.
Watermelon Mint Juleps
Have a sweet tooth? These juleps are for you!
4 cups watermelon
1 cup bourbon
2 cups mint
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon sugar.
Put them all in a bowl and crush with a potato masher. Strain into a pitcher. Pour into a cup filled with crushed ice. Top with a splash of soda and garnish with a mint sprig.