The 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby is this Saturday, May 6th. It's the most exciting 2 minutes in racing...especially if you've got a great mint julep in your hand!
The Mint Julep is such a perfect, classic and historic bourbon drink, it seems silly to wait until Derby day to have one. Of course, as any aficionado of spirits will tell you, there are as many right ways as wrong ways of making one.
The first step in my Mint Julep is making the simple syrup. I use the standard ratio of 1 cup of clean, filtered water to 1 cup of sugar, but I use an organic product like Woodstock Farms Organic Pure Cane Sugar. Place the sugar and water in a saucepan and heat until just boiling. I've found that it needs to reach this stage for the sugar to really dissolve. As soon as it starts to boil, remove the saucepan from the heat, and throw in a handful of freshly picked mint leaves. Stir to make sure the mint gets in there, and then leave the saucepan to cool to room temperature. Once it's at room temp, strain the simple syrup into a bottle with a tight sealing lid, and place in the refrigerator to cool. It will keep for about a week.
The next step is the tough part: the battle of the bourbons! The recent explosion of choices on the bourbon market has made it all but impossible for the average imbiber to know which bourbon is best for their tastes. My suggestion for this is to go to a trusted bartender and explain that you're new to the bourbon world, and could you have the tiniest of tastes and sniffs of what he's got at his bar. Chances are, you'll get a sampling of some of the better known brands: Maker's Mark, Woodford Reserve, perhaps Buffalo Trace or Bulleit, and the standard Jim Beam. This is a very good start. If you have deeper pockets, go to the manager of a trusted higher end liquor store and explain that you've had all the rest, now what does he think is the best? This is how I came across a fabulous 17-year-old bottle of Eagle Rare, my choice for my Mint Julep, though currently incredibly difficult to find. So I settle for the 10-year-old Eagle Rare, which at $32.99, is my "best bang-for-the-buck bourbon" on the market right now.
Of course, hinting to wife and friends that "I'm trying new bourbons" around your birthday or the holidays inevitably gets you a few bottles as well!
Other ingredients for my perfect Mint Julep include crushed ice from clean, filtered water. Don't even think of using tap water for any cocktail much less this one. Why ruin an expensive bottle of bourbon by going cheap on the ice? I make my own ice cubes, then put them in a canvas ice bag and bash them to the perfect crushed size.
And a Mint Julep needs a metal--not glass-- Julep cup. Made of pewter or aluminum, it frosts on the outside as you stir your drink, keeping your beverage ice-cold on even the hottest of days. You simply need to have one to make the perfect Mint Julep.
So here's my recipe...
3 oz. bourbon
1 oz. mint-infused simple syrup
Fresh mint for garnish
Crush the ice and pack it into the Julep cup, even letting it dome slightly over the top. Don't worry...the alcohol will melt it.
I like to add 1.5 ounces of bourbon, then the ounce of simple syrup, then another 1.5 ounces of bourbon on top. Break off a few mint leaves from the stem and push into the ice. Using a long spoon, stir the drink well. A beautiful layer of frost will form on the outside of the cup. Add more ice, if necessary, and garnish with a sprig of mint.