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Kentucky Mint Juleps: The Ultimate Recipe

Bourbon is the quintessential American whiskey and the drink of choice of many of the best pitmasters in the south. Made in Kentucky, mostly from corn, when properly made, filtered, and aged, Bourbon can rival the finest Cognacs in richness, depth, and complexity.

Mint is a weed. Plant some now and you'll be engulfed by it in two years. There are many types, so go to the plant store and pinch a few leaves. Pick the one you like the best. Pick two.

By the time the Kentucky Derby rolls around on the first weekend in May, mint is ready to pick, even in harsher climes, and it flourishes all summer long sporting lovely lavender flowers by midsummer.

The refreshing mint julep became the official drink of the Derby in 1938 and was served in water glasses. According to the Derby Museum at Churchill Downs in Louisville, the glasses disappeared from the track dining room. So management started charging 25¢ per glass and the most popular race souvenir was born. They are collector's items and older glasses command hundreds of dollars on eBay. By 2010 the production run was up to 700,000 and they can be bought in stores. Sterling Silver Julep Cups were introduced in 1951 and they play an important role in Derby lore. Traditionally, the governor of Kentucky salutes the victorious Derby owner with a toast at the fashionable Winner's Party following the race. The official silver cups sell for $750 on their website. You can order unofficial Mint Julep Cups on Amazon for much less and read more about the drink in the book The Kentucky Mint Julep by Colonel Joe Nickel.

My wife and I always watch the Derby with a mint julep in hand. Tell me about your Derby traditions.

Mint Juleps for Seven

Simple syrup is on every bar in the world. It is simply equal amounts water and sugar by volume. Below is a simple syrup infused with mint, perfect for juleps and mojitos. All the flavor, and no green stuff in your teeth!

This makes a fairly sweet drink, as they like it in the South. You can cut back on the syrup and add a splash of sparkling water if you wish, and I often wish.

Makes. 14 ounces of mint syrup, enough for 8 (12 ounce) drinks

Preparation time. 15 minutes to make the mint syrup, 5 minutes to make the drink

Ingredients

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

1 cup of mint leaves, rinsed, de-stemmed, and chopped coarsely

1 (750 ml) bottle respectable Kentucky Bourbon

Crushed ice

About the Bourbon. Knob Creek is my favorite sippin' whiskey, but I no way I'm mixing it with sugar and mint. Maker's Mark is a popular, less expensive choice. But for this recipe, the mint is the star, so I use an inexpensive bourbon, like regular Jim Beam.

About the mint. Be sure to remove the stems and the large central vein which can be bitter. Leaves only, please.

Liven it up a bit. Before serving, dose it with a splash of club soda if you wish.

Method

1) Put the mint, sugar, and water is a small saucepan and bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar. Then turn it down to low for about 5 minutes to extract the mint flavor. Turn off the heat and let it cool at room temp.

2) Filter the syrup through a fine mesh strainer. You can then bottle it and keep it in the refrigerator for weeks.

3) Fill an 12 ounce cocktail glass half way with crushed ice. Pour in 3 ounces of Bourbon, add 1 1/2 ounces of syrup, and stir or shake well because the syrup will sink to the bottom. Garnish with a sprig of mint and a straw, and get your bets down.

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