“They are, in fact, like the American ladies, irresistible.” – Frederick Marryat, on mint juleps
Once a year a free pass is given to non-Southerners which allows them to wear big hats and to sip minty-sweet bourbon drinks with abandon. This event is the Kentucky Derby, and while I know next to nothing about horse racing, I can give you some pointers for making the perfect mint julep. For fashion advice on large hats, I’d suggest Pinterest.
The mint julep is not only a culturally iconic and classic cocktail, but it is a dead simple cocktail to make. While technically it only has three ingredients, do not forget what I say – “Always use quality ice.”, which also means the appropriate ice. In my opinion, pebble ice is key to any julep, but you can also get great results with crushed ice. It is just harder to maintain size consistently. For the home cocktail enthusiast, I’d suggest buying some pebble ice, especially if you have Sonic Drive Ins in your area. This pebble or crushed ice will aid in frosting the glass, whether it’s silver or glass.
Woodford Reserve is the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby, but I chose to use E.H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel. Woodford even offers a $1,000 mint julep, which benefits the Wounded Warrior Equestrian Program. For the past 10 years they have varied their recipe slightly, and this year they used Woodford’s Double Oaked Bourbon, coconut palm sugar, chocolate mint, powdered sugar, and garnished with candied orange and lemon slices. It sounds delicious, and, considering the donation level (“cost”), at least you get to keep the commemorative cup.
At 100 proof, I think E.H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel (or any other high-proof bourbon) is an excellent choice to balance the sweetness and dilution of a mint julep. I also switched it up by using fresh peppermint instead of the standard spearmint. I had no particular reason, but would like to compare these side by side. I think the spearmint gives it a more aromatic and softer taste than the peppermint, but did enjoy the change.
Find the full recipe below, slip slowly, and ease into the Southern pace. If you choose to wear a big hat while doing so, be sure to tag your photo on Instagram with #HumbleGarnish.
- 3½ ounces bourbon
- 1¼ ounce simple syrup
- 8-12 mint leaves (spearmint or peppermint)
- Place fresh mint leaves in the bottom of a highball glass.
- Add a small portion of the simple syrup and muddle until leaves are well-torn. Add remaining simply syrup.
- Add half the bourbon and some pebble ice, then stir.
- Pack the glass to the top with pebble ice, pour the remaining bourbon over the ice, then top off one more time with ice until it is cresting the top of the glass.
- Garnish with a few sprigs of fresh mint and add a straw.