April 20, 2010

A REAL Mint Julep

The Mint Julep is the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby and although I am tempted to enjoy them year round, I usually only have them on Derby. They have been the tradition for as long as I can remember - it has been the official drink of the Derby since 1938. And a few years ago, they released a recipe for a $1,000 julep. But now onto the serious stuff.

OK so I have seen a variety of recipes for a Mint Julep. But there is only one way to make it. And it only involves a few things - mint, bourbon, and simple syrup. Sounds simple...right?? But ooooh no.

First - what bourbon? I learned far too much about bourbon on my excursion for Stud's birthday along the Bourbon Trail a few summers ago. His cousins own and operate a bourbon distillery we will hereby call Wan Vinkle Bourbon (for anonymity of course) and they kindly set up an amazing behind the scenes tour at Buffalo Trace that was much more informative than the standard hour long tour. Did you know that in order to be considered bourbon, the following things must hold true?:

  • It must be distilled within the United States
  • It must be made of a grain mixture including at least 51% corn
  • It cannot be altered in any artificial way: no coloring, flavoring, or special filtering
  • It must be aged for at least two years in new charred white oak barrels
  • It must be distilled to no higher than 165 proof, and introduced into the barrel at no higher than 125 proof

Try that on for size, rum and vodka...posers.

The first thing you must decide is if you prefer wheat or rye bourbon. I prefer wheat - I think it has a much smoother flavor. Examples of wheat bourbons are Maker's Mark and Old Weller. Brands that use rye are Woodford Reserve, Jim Beam, and most other bourbon brands. Rye bourbons have more of a spicy, peppery kick. Then, you must decide if you are a bourbon snob because there are many people in the world that refuse to mix their bourbon with anything - not even ice. I am not one of those people. Stud can be, depending on the glass.

Second - OK so you have your bourbon. Now you need a mint julep cup. This is not just a cup. A true mint julep cup is a sterling silver cup - truly frat-tastic. If you want to go all out, then you need to get your julep cups at Wakefield-Scearce in Shelbyville, KY. Their julep cups are modeled after the original which was made in Kentucky around 1795. They have signature decorative beading and each one is dated by stamping the initials of the current president on the bottom. In Louisville, they are popular gifts for births, weddings, graduations, and birthdays. Some people judge you on the amount of julep cups you own. I am not one of those people. Stud can be, depending on the person. Kidding, of course. (Sidenote - If you have a party and you catch somebody looking at the bottom of your julep cups to see if it is a Wakefield-Scearce, it is socially acceptable to kick them in the shin and tell them to go stand in the corner and think about what they've done.) Anyhoo - When an icy cold mint julep is in a silver julep cup, the frosting on the outside along with the spring of mint from the top - a truly beautiful sight. Shivers...down my spine. Gulp.

Third and final - how to make a mint julep. Some people add club soda - NO. Some people use granulated or powdered sugar in the bottom of the glass - NO. Some people drink the pre-mixed cocktail - NO - part of the fun is making it! Some people add weird things like fruit and other stupid stuff ABSOLUTELY NOOOOO. OK so here's what you do. You take a 1:1 ratio of water and sugar in a saucepan and boil it until the sugar is dissolved and now you have a simple syrup. If you are making a ton, like me this Derby, do about 3c. water and 3c. sugar. Maybe more. Then take a spring of fresh mint and some ice and crush them together at the bottom of a julep cup. Gotta release those minty juices. Fill the glass the rest of the way with ice, and add bourbon until the glass is about 3/4 full. Then top off with the cooled simple syrup, give it a stir, add a spring of mint, and enjoy. The bourbon to simple syrup ratio is a personal preference, but a julep is really all about the bourbon. And......enjoy. Drooling thinking about it. Candy in my mouth. Please, feel free to try this at home.

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