Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Perfect Mint Julep

DEBORAH CROMBIE: It's Derby Day! I know I've written about the Kentucky Derby before--watching the Derby is a big tradition for me. I want to sit in my own living room in front of the big TV, and I watch every single minute of the programming from the time it starts. Friends are welcome--just don't talk during the race.

Who watched the Belmont last year? Oh, my gosh. I thought I might never see another Triple Crown winner! I did have a house full of people for that, and was glad I'd recorded the race. In fact, I've never erased it. It was fabulous.

But now let's get down to the important stuff. If you're going to watch hours of race coverage, you obviously need fortifying. I had heard all my life about mint juleps but I'd never had one. So a couple of years ago I looked up recipes and gave it a try. Yuck!! Honestly, I ended up pouring it down the sink. But there must be something to this, so I'm determined to give it another try.

I've read a dozen recipes. Some say muddle the mint with a teaspoon of sugar and add a teaspoon of water. Some say rub the mint on the inside of the glass or cup and use two teaspoons of simple syrup. Some say make mint-infused simple syrup. Some say just stick a sprig of mint in!

A couple of things seem to hold true overall:
It's nice if you have the cool silver cups, like the ones in the photo. But I don't. Sigh.

Ice is very important. It must be crushed. And not too wet. Blender crushed ice has to be drained. (Kayti and I are contemplating buying some from Sonic.)

And last but not least--it's really important to have good bourbon. The drink is basically bourbon over crushed ice with a tiny bit of sweetened mint. When a made a julep before I used Jack Daniels, and I think that was part of the problem. But what bourbon? (Not a bourbon drinker here, obviously...)

Some recipes even say you can top the bourbon and ice with a drizzle of dark rum. Now that sounds pretty good, but I can't image getting down a drink with two to three ounces of bourbon, AND rum, and still being awake for the race. And not sleeping for the rest of the day...

REDS, have any of you ever made a julep? Do you have the perfect formula?

And for those who would rather eat the mint--here's a Mint Julep Cupcake recipe. Don't these look fab? (I would never go to this much trouble, I'm afraid, but would love if someone made them for me.)

And by the way, I hope we will all be wearing our hats!

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: I don't really do mint juleps (shocking, I know, given my well-documented love of cocktails!), but I do love those silver cups. I have a friend with an inherited monogrammed set, which is Very Fancy, Indeed. I mean, you can have club soda and mint and feel quite glam.

I tend not to watch hose-racing as it makes me sad. I have read  that horses are pushed well beyond their limits, made to race injured, and then overmedicated. I won't go into the gory details here, but The Atlantic did an eye-opening piece a while back. You can read it here.

HALLIE EPHRON: That's depressing about horse racing. My parents were big racing fans who had box seats at Hollywood Park. They'd work all morning and then go to the track. I even learned to read the racing form... sort of. And was allowed to bet. And lose.

I've only had mint juleps once - a friend had a Kentucky Derby party and made them for everyone. I don't remember if I liked them. But I love mojitos with fresh muddled mint and lime juice and sugar syrup and rum and club soda. Entirely different animal, right?

RHYS BOWEN: Count me among those who has never had a mint julep. But I do like mojitos so I think I might quite like it. And in Morocco I drank mint tea all the time. I do love watching horse racing. Our next door neighbor in Arizona owns race horses and we go to the races with him when he has a horse running. I have to confess it is a thrill to stand in the paddock before the race and chat with the trainer and jockey (who comes up to my shoulder). And even more of a thrill to stand in the winners circle. I 'd rather like to own a race horse, but as they cost $1500 s month to feed and train I think this will remain a dream.

LUCY BURDETTE: Oh come on Rhys, get a horse! we'd all bet on it:). I don't do bourbon after an unfortunate incident in college. And I will say nothing more on that subject. But we do love mojitos, and John makes a killer version with fresh mint and key limes...yum!

DEBS: Yes, Rhys, get a horse!! We'll come to the races with you! And I may end up making mojitos, which I love. My garden is running wild in mint right now--I've been pulling it up by the armfuls--so need to come up with some use for it:-)

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, bourbon. If I had one sip of bourbon I would have a headache for a week. However! Somehow, happily,  mojitos and Palymras (mint, vodka and lime shaken with ice) have no such aftereffects.  Jonathan and I have a Derby ritual bet. He is allowed to pick either the favorite OR the rest of the field. He always picks the favorite and I get everyone else. I love it.  We're about 50-50.  Did anyone ever read the book called Copper Khan?  It's about claiming races. SO sad.

DEBS:  I grew up going racing with my parents. We went to Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs every year, and to Shreveport, but never managed to go to Louisville to the Derby. My dad let me bet, too--all of $2, which I never outgrew, thank goodness--but it taught me to study the form and follow the horses and the jockeys. And I grew up reading Dick Francis. I'm still reading Dick Francis! That's what I'm listening to on Audible at the moment.

READERS, any suggestions on the juleps?


  1. Mint Juleps? My recipe says simple syrup, muddled mint leaves, the best bourbon, crushed ice, and a spring of mint dusted with powdered sugar but I really have no clue as I leave the mixed drink/cocktail preparation to John. Actually, I think I might prefer a mojito [perhaps served in a beautiful silver cup?]

    The cupcakes look delicious; I may have to try that recipe . . . .

  2. Bourbon is too... bourbon-y for me. That probably makes me a cocktail philistine but there you have it.

  3. not a fan of bourbon but I just added Kentucky bourbon spearmint to my herb garden. Divine!

  4. Try Woodford Reserve, Debs. It's a good bourbon. Maker's Mark is, as well.

    I'm not much of a julep fan, although we received two of those sterling silver cups as a wedding gift, 34 years ago. I've used them for everything but juleps.

    If you're not a fan of the bourbon and mint combo, you could try our friends' favorite Kentucky cocktail, Keeneland Breeze. It's Maker's Mark bourbon, ginger ale, a splash of Cointreau and an orange slice over crushed ice. Very refreshing.

    We live two miles from the local racetrack, and often see the horses being cared for when we drive by. A bunch of my husband's friends have worked there as grooms or something.

  5. I love the cups. But the bourbon...well, it'd probably be too much for me.

    And I love looking at racing thoroughbreds, but have never been to a race. I'm not much of a bettor, so feels kind of pointless.

  6. Here on the the Texas-Mexico border, we make Mexican mint juleps for Derby day. Large quantities of tequila!

  7. Tequila and mint? There's a thought.

    Thanks for the suggestions, Karen. I like trying some classic cocktails, so it would nice to have a good bourbon. I'm honestly not sure I can drink bourbon. I can drink Scotch, but only in very small amounts.

    And both red wine and chardonnay do to me what bourbon does to Hank--killer headache.

    It's a beautiful day here in North Texas--hope it's as nice for all those people out on the track in Louisville.

    Karen, I envy you getting to see the thoroughbreds every day. I've staying near Newmarket and in other places in the UK where I've seen the horses go out on the gallops in the mornings. Lovely sight.

  8. "stayed" near Newmarket... Either my keyboard or my brain is sticking this morning...

  9. My mint julep secret: start in late April. Decant some top-shelf stuff into a smaller bottle. Stick sprigs of fresh mint inside the smaller bottle of bourbon. Put the cap on the smaller bottle with mint-infused bourbon and then stick it in the fridge. Of course, when you're making your julep, take the mint sprigs out of the bottle before pouring and use fresh mint. The bourbon is chilled and a bit tamed.

  10. I'm too lazy, really I just wait to the very last minute, to make simple syrup so I usually muddle a few mint leaves with a tsp of powdered sugar and a couple Tbs of water, then add crushed ice and Woodford Reserve or Makers Mark. I love them, but I am a bourbon drinker anyway. I wish we had the silver cups - I could use them for so much more than just the juleps.

  11. My friend Liz, who is a professional cake artist, suggests a Mint Julep cake: vanilla cake, infused with bourbon butter soaking sauce, and iced with vanilla mint buttercream frosting. I'd definitely try a slice.

  12. Diane Hale here.

    I was fortunate enough to go to the Kentucky Derby many, many years ago and came away with a commemorative KD julep glass. I loved being in the stands that day. There was such a sense of excitement and joy in the crowd. As for the "official" mint julep that came in the glass--yuck! No, I didn't pour it out, just waited until a bourbon-drinking friend finished hers, then poured mine into her glass.

    My glass made it from Kentucky back to Indianapolis (where we were staying at the time), then back to our home in Texas, but didn't survive the move from Texas to Arizona. My memory of that first taste still lingers. So no mint julep today as I watch the Derby, just a toast of left-over, but still bubbly Prosecco, at the end of the main event. Or each race leading up to it *wink wink*.

    Yes, there probably is some abuse, and/or mistreatment of race horses, but with increased public awareness and industry scrutiny, I suspect it's now a rarity, rather than the norm. So I choose to enjoy the thrill of watching horses doing what they've done for years beyond imagining--follow their instincts and compete to be first in the herd hierarchy.

    A toast to all the racing fans, and a tip of the hat to all who enjoy mint juleps.

    btw--what's up with captcha today? Took four tries to get it to accept I'm a person!

  13. Here's a recipe that uses mint and is very refreshing. I suppose you could add the libation of your choice if you were so inclined.

    The Deaf Smith Country Cookbook c1973 (!)
    Apple-Mint Tea
    1 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
    4 cups water
    3 quarts apple juice
    1/2 cup lemon juice
    1/2 cup raw honey

    Place mint in a tea pot. Heat water. Just before it boils, pour it over the mint leaves and steep for 5 minutes. Strain.
    Mix the mint tea with the remaining ingredients.

    Serve hot with gingerbread in the winter time.
    Chill and serve any time in the summer.

  14. Karen, I bought the Woodford Reserve--highly recommended by the liquor store lady. I had a tiny little taste when I got home. Wow. Not sure I want to sully that delicious stuff with mint. I might just stick a sprig in my glass:-)

    Gigi Norwood, I hope you are making that cake:-)

  15. Rhonda, next year I may try your version!

  16. When my parents lived in Altadena, California they were close enough to go for breakfasts at Santa Anita in Arcadia. Over time my mother became more interested in racetrack events involving food and drink and determined to learn about mint juleps. Her preference was to prepare the rum and swish a large sprig of mint until she could "sniff & detect" then discard the sprig and do the crushed ice thing. She had an ice crusher for that. She finished it off with the top few leaves off the sprig of mint. I should put that at the beginning of the recipe, I know, because I always forget. A pre-used sprig top does not work. See here next year to find out if I finally changed my recipe card. xo

  17. Setting: Cape Cod, Summer 1970. We had an exotic guest -- a college friend of my brother-in-law's (they were at Duke), who was a SOUTHERNER!!! Toward the end of the visit, we decided that this guy would probably want a mint julep. Our routine drinks were beer and cheap wine. But we were determined. There we were, out on the wooden picnic table, smashing ice cubes with a hammer!!

    I did attend a Derby party once and must have had a mint julep, but I don't remember.

    When I was in California recently, my daughter and I stayed in Acadia -- very near Santa Anita -- we were between two races so things were quiet. 33 year old Ellie did not quite comprehend my interest in the race track.

    But I simply connect it with glamour.

  18. i am the only person i know who loves them. Brought them last year to a derby day party and finished off several friends' glasses. Yes, chilled silver cups! And crushed ice (I talked sonic into some) and fresh mint as well as mint infused into the simple syrup. Makers Mark. And an accent.

  19. Glad you like the Woodford, Debs. It's my favorite, after going to a friend's tasting party a couple years ago. I'm usually more of a scotch drinker, but the Woodford won me over.

    Off to a Derby party in a bit. The Derby is a big deal in Cincinnati, since we're just across the river from Kentucky. Cheers, and may your horse win!

  20. I hate to confess that I've lived in Kentucky my whole life and never been to the Derby. However, I do watch it every year on television, and it's always such a thrill. Always get a bit weepy when they play "My Old Kentucky Home" as the horses are led out to the track.

    While Churchill Downs track has the Derby, it's Lexington where most of the horse action is, with all the beautiful horse farms and the Kentucky Horse Park, where the history of Kentucky and horses is on display, as well as horses. I grew up an hour east of Lexington and got my undergraduate degree from University of Kentucky in Lexington. The drive from Lexington to my hometown Maysville via the Paris (Paris, Kentucky) Pike took me past horse farms and horse grazing in the fields, a beautiful sight. Keeneland is the racetrack in Lexington, and I have been there.

    I know there is abuse in the horse racing industry, but I will tell you that there are many horses that live much better than many people. Some of the horse barns are quite something. And, of course, the top producing horses must be taken care of because they are the money makers.

    Mint juleps are not really a favorite of mine. I want to like bourbon more than I do, but I just prefer vodka. I feel most disloyal saying that. I do have a couple of the silver cups with initials given to me as a wedding present from a friend's mother, who could definitely tell you how to fix a great mint julep if she were still alive. I was going to go to a Derby party today, but the hubby came in this weekend, and we had a lot to take care of, so we will just watch it on TV again.

    I hope everyone enjoys the Running of the Roses today. "And they're off!

  21. Maybe we could have a race-free Derby? You know, just party and look at beautiful horses?

  22. Crazy crazy crazy day. Missed you all…see you tomorrow. xoxo