The Kentucky Derby might be the most exciting two minutes in sports, but the Derby’s official drink, the Mint Julep, is meant to be savored slowly–preferably in a frosty metal cup. That’s the way southerners have been enjoying them for generations.
In fact, Mint Juleps are one of the oldest-known cocktails. The earliest recorded mention of them comes from Travels of Four Years and a Half in the United States: 1798-1802, published in 1803. In it, the book’s author, John Davis, describes the Mint Julep as “a dram of spirituous liquor that has mint in it, taken by Virginians of a morning.” I guess that makes it one of the oldest-known brunch dranks as well.
Fortunately, you needn’t travel to Dixie for a taste of one. The Mint Julep’s short ingredient list (bourbon, fresh mint, sugar or simple syrup, crushed ice) requires little advanced planning, and putting one together one doesn’t require any special mixology skills. But it does require good ingredients and the patience and time to carry out each step of its preparation with care. A slapdash Mint Julep is no Mint Julep at all.
Classic Mint Julep
Yield: 1 cocktail
3 ounces good bourbon, to taste (or rye whiskey, if you’re feeling controversial)
1/2 ounce rich simple syrup (2:1, sugar to water) or 1 teaspoon sugar
6-8 mint leaves, plus more for garnish
- Before starting, crush ice using a Lewis bag and mallet (or a ziplock bag and a rolling pin). You’ll need enough crushed ice to fill a Mint Julep cup. Store in freezer until step 4.
- Place 6-8 mint leaves in the bottom of a Mint Julep cup. Add simple syrup.
- Lightly muddle the leaves with the syrup against the bottom and sides of the cup, taking care not to bruise or tear the mint.
- Fill the cup almost to the top with crushed ice. Add bourbon and stir with bar spoon until the outside of the glass frosts.
- Add more crushed ice to form a cap. Garnish with additional mint and a straw.