There’s nothing like the first Saturday in May for a Kentuckian to stir the traditions and the heartstrings. Conjecture might equate that sentimentality to the consumption of the favorite beverage of the day, the Mint Julep. But it runs deeper than a drink, it’s Derby Day…the Run for the Roses, and Kentucky voices, raised in song, reminisce about their Old Kentucky Home prior the The Race.
The Saucy household is among those raising a sterling silver Julep cup, frosty and full, belting out the words of that traditional tune, tears streaming down sentimental faces, awaiting The Run for the Roses. We may live in Tennessee, but I married a Kentucky boy, blue as the grass that grows there; Derby Day is his day…and the Mint Julep is always at hand.
Now, a simpler drink may be hard to find, but there are rules for a traditional Mint Julep. Many, many rules.
First, a sterling silver Julep cup is traditional. This may be one of the only “rules” that can be broken, since many people don’t own them. If you don’t, a chilled glass highball is acceptable. But never, ever, ever let a Kentuckian see you serve a Mint Julep in a plastic cup. Just sayin’. The Julep cups or highball must be pre-chilled.
Secondly, you must use crushed ice. Not cubes. Crushed. Now, I don’t have an ice crushing device on my freezer, so I just put some ice in a plastic bag and smash the livin’ daylights out of it with a meat mallet. It works fine. AND, the crushed ice must be mounded up in the Julep cup like a snow cone. This abundance of ice allows the concoction to be poured over it without excessive melting (the pre-chilled cups help with this too).
Third, Kentucky Bourbon whiskey is the only whiskey for a Julep. This is not negotiable. Our preference is Maker’s Mark…mostly because I just adore the wax seal on the bottle. But that’s just me, any Kentucky Bourbon will work just fine.
Fourth, a simple syrup, infused with mint (spearmint, not peppermint) is a must have. There’s some debate on this issue…some say the mint should only be smelled, not tasted, but my sources say it shall be in the syrup. And so it is.
Fifth, mint leaves have to be used as a garnish.
And Sixth, a straw, cut to one inch above the edge of the Julep cup (in order to get your face close to the aroma of the mint) is essential. The tip of the straw should be dipped in the simple syrup and then coated in powdered sugar.
Got all that? Simple, right? Well, it really is…and by all that is Kentucky, that’s how I do it every year on the first Saturday in May.
Tomorrow is the big day and I can’t wait. I hope you’ll join us in a toast to one of the finest traditions in Kentucky.
- FOR THE SIMPLE SYRUP:
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups white sugar
- 2 big sprigs of mint
- FOR THE COCKTAIL:
- Crushed ice
- 6 cups Kentucky Bourbon whiskey
- sprigs of mint and straw for garnish
- FOR THE SIMPLE SYRUP:
- Combine water, sugar and mint leaves in a small saucepan.
- Bring to a boil over high heat until the sugar is completely dissolved.
- Remove mint sprigs.
- Allow syrup to cool, approximately 1 hour.
- If making ahead, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- FOR THE COCKTAIL ASSEMBLY:
- In a large crystal (or glass) pitcher, combine the simple syrup and Kentucky Bourbon.
- Take chilled Julep cups and fill to an overflowing mound with crushed ice.
- Pour the Bourbon mixture into the cup, filling about ¾ to the top.
- Garnish with mint sprig and straw.
- Serve immediately.