A traditional mint julep (photo courtesy Arch Rock Fish | San Diego).  You don’t need silver julep glasses. A rocks glass is just fine (photo courtesy Distilled New York ).
There’s no better way to watch the Kentucky Derby on Saturday than with a mint julep in your hand.
A mint julep is made of spearmint, Bourbon, sugar and water. It’s similar to a Mojito, but substitutes Bourbon for rum. The fresh mint leaves are used very lightly bruised to release more of the aroma and flavor.
Traditionally, mint juleps are served in silver or pewter cups (shown in the photo). However, few of us have the space to keep a collection of julep cups, so any tall glass is fine.
More opportunity to celebrate: May 30th is National Mint Julep Day.
Here’s an easy mint julep recipe; but recipe #2, below, But Recipe #2, below, is worth the extra effort:
Ingredients Per Drink
1. Muddle two sprigs of mint with the brown sugar and one ounce of Bourbon in a julep cup or old-fashioned glass.
2. Add the crushed ice, the remaining Bourbon and garnish with sprig of mint.
Ingredients For About 10 Rocks Glass Drinks
1. Prepare the mint extract: Remove about 40 small mint leaves, wash and place in a small mixing bowl. Cover with 3 ounces of Bourbon. Allow the leaves to soak for 15 minutes. Then gather the leaves in a clean, soap-free piece of cotton cloth and vigorously wring the mint bundle over the bowl of whiskey. Dip the bundle again and repeat the process several times. Then set aside.
2. Prepare the simple syrup: Mix 1 cup of granulated sugar and one cup of water in a pot. Heat to dissolve the sugar. Stir constantly so the sugar does not burn. Set aside to cool.
3. Prepare the mint julep mixture: Pour 3 cups of Bourbon into a large glass bowl or glass pitcher. Add 1 cup of the simple syrup to the Bourbon.
4. Begin adding the mint extract a tablespoon at a time to the julep mixture. Each batch of mint extract is different, so you must taste and smell after each tablespoon is added. You may have to leave the room a time or two to clear your nose. (Editor’s Note: Or use this trick: Put whole coffee beans in a cup and hold them to your nose. Coffee beans magically “clear the nose” so you can smell again.) The tendency is to use too much mint. You are looking for a soft mint aroma and taste—generally about 3 tablespoons total.
5. Refrigerate. When you think the mixture right, pour it into an empty bottle, cap tightly and refrigerate it for at least 24 hours to marry the flavors.
6. Fill glass. To serve the mint julep, fill each glass half full with shaved ice. Insert a sprig of mint and then pack in more ice to about an inch over the top of the cup. Then, insert a straw that has been cut to one inch above the top of the cup so the nose is forced close to the mint when sipping the julep.
The Mint Julep cocktail first appeared in print in 1803, described as a “dram of spirituous liquor that has mint in it, taken by Virginians in the morning.”
Some historians say that the Mint Julep dates to the Colonies in the early 1700s. If so, they may have been mixed with rum, a spirit only as far away as the Caribbean.
One visitor observed that the planters rose early and had their juleps, because a julep before breakfast was believed to give protection against malaria [source].
The oldest record at West Virginia’s Greenbrier Hotel (then the Old White Tavern) notes, in 1816, that 1816 guests were ordering “julips” at a cost of twenty-five cents, or three (!) for fifty cents.
Prior to the Civil War (1861-1865), brandy or whiskey from Europe was commonly used in a julep. During the war, if it could be had, the less expensive bourbon from Kentucky was used.
The word julep derives from the Persian for flower water (gol ab), referring to a rose water drink. When the concept migrated to the European Mediterranean, transliterated as julep, local mint replaced the rose petals.
The clubhouse at Churchill Downs began mixing bourbon-based mint juleps around 1875. This mint julep became the racetrack’s signature drink in 1938, when they started to serve the drink in Kentucky Derby souvenir glasses.
Today, the Kentucky Derby serves more than 80,000 juleps over the two-day event. The capacity of the track is 50,000 (x 2 days = 100,000), so some revelers are not having their fair share!
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