The first Saturday in May is Derby Day (hint, it’s tomorrow). For horseracing fans, that means the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby. For fans of hats the size of platters, seersucker suits, garden parties and casual drinking, it’s the start of Mint Julep season, which is cause for celebration.
If you’ve been curious about brown spirits or you’re sort of interested in bourbon and wondering what all the fuss is about, the julep is your perfect gateway. Simple to make but sublime in its taste. The frosted julep cup, filled with crushed ice, a slurry of sugar and fragrant mint is the perfect delivery vehicle for folks who aren’t quite sure how the feel about bourbon. It’s like the absolute best kind of alcoholic slushy. Way more elegant than those actual slushy and vodka combos you created in college, the julep is a grown folks drink you wouldn’t feel embarrassed about being photographed with the morning after.
This year, it’s estimated that nearly 120,000 juleps will be served at Churchill Downs Racetrack this weekend. You don’t have to miss out just because you’re not heading to Kentucky. Juleps are easy to make and perfect on a warm, sunny day. Here’s a few takes on the classic to mix up this weekend.
Modern Mint Julep
Recipe adapted by King Cocktail Dale DeGroff
1 1/3 oz Bulleit Bourbon
¾ oz simple syrup or 1 tsp sugar
4 fresh mint leaves and a sprig of mint (use tender, young sprigs which last longer and look better)
Prepare some very cold, very dry powdered ice by crushing chunks of ice inside a canvas ice bag. Bruise the mint leaves in the bottom of a julep cup with simple syrup or sugar. Add ice to the three quarter mark and add half of the bourbon. Stir to chill the julep cup. Top off with more powdered ice and the remaining bourbon. Continue to stir until the outside of the cup begins to freeze. Garnish with the mint sprig and set aside to rest while the julep cup freezes over on the outside. Pick up carefully to imbibe.
High Stakes Julep
Created by top Louisville, Kentucky mixologist Marie Zahn
2 parts Basil Hayden’s Bourbon
1 bar spoon apricot jelly or preserves
10 mint leaves
Add 8 mint leaves to a glass and lightly press with the back of a bar spoon. Add Basil Hayden’s bourbon, apricot jelly and crushed ice into the glass. Swizzle briefly and add more crushed ice until it is mounding over the top of the glass. Add a straw and garnish with additional sprigs of mint.
The Queen’s Julep
Created by Bob Peters, head mixologist at the Punch Room in Charlotte, North Carolina
1 1/3 oz Bulleit Bourbon
½ oz simple syrup
½ oz Fernet Branca Menta
8 fresh mint leaves, muddled
Muddle mint leaves in a shaker. Pour Bulleit bourbon, simple syrup and Fernet Branca Menta into a shaker with ice and shake. Double strain and pour over crushed ice in a julep cup. Garnish with fresh mint sprig.