No day comes with more excitement for native Kentuckians than Derby Day. The Barrister married into a family with proud roots in Kentucky’s bluegrass and embraces such pastimes as the Bourbon Keeneland, Churchill Downs, and that sweet taste of a trifecta win. The most exciting two minutes in sports – or, at least the fastest, the Kentucky Derby sets off the American Triple Crown of horse races; starting at Churchill Downs, running through the Preakness, and ending with Belmont States. No Derby is complete without the Mint Julep.
The Mint Julep* is arguably America’s greatest contribution to the 19th century cocktail canon. Probably created in the late 1700s in America’s southeast, the Mint Julep is a simple recipe of bourbon whiskey, sugar, spring water, mint, and ice. In the 1800s, Kentucky Senator Henry Clay brought the Mint Julep to Washington D.C.’s Round Robin Bar – one of the Barrister’s favorite historic watering holes; and, from there, the Mint Julep proliferated through the rest of the United States.
Our recipe is below; or, you can preferably use Col. Joshua Soule Smith’s recipe, which follows our version.
4-6 Mint Leaves
2-4 oz. Bourbon Whiskey
1 Barspoon Powdered Sugar
1 Barspoon Spring Water
Finely Crushed Ice
Prepare a pewter Julep cup (pewter insulates cold) with Mint Leaves, Sugar, and Water. Gently crush the Mint Leaves – do not muddle, it will create a bitter cocktail. Pack the Julep cup with Finely Crushed Ice. Slowly pour a generous amount of Bourbon Whiskey over the ice. Fill the Julep cup with more Finely Crushed Ice. Gently stir and garnish with Fresh Mint Leaves.
Then comes the zenith of man’s pleasure. Then comes the julep – the mint julep. Who has not tasted one has lived in vain. The honey of Hymettus brought no such solace to the soul; the nectar of the gods is tame beside it. It is the very dream of drinks, the vision of sweet quaffings.
How shall it be? Take from the cold spring some water, pure as angels are; mix it with sugar till it seems like oil. Then take a glass and crush your mint within it with a spoon – crush it around the borders of the glass and leave no place untouched. Then throw the mint away – it is the sacrifice. Fill with cracked ice the glass; pour in the quantity of Bourbon which you want. It trickles slowly through the ice. Let it have time to cool, then pour your sugared water over it. No spoon is needed; no stirring allowed- just let it stand a moment. Then around the brim place sprigs of mint, so that the one who drinks may find the taste and odor at one draft.
Then when it is made, sip it slowly. August suns are shining, the breath of the south wind is upon you. It is fragrant cold and sweet – it is seductive. No maidens kiss is tenderer or more refreshing, no maidens touch could be more passionate. Sip it and dream-it is a dream itself. No other land can give you so much sweet solace for your cares; no other liquor soothes you in melancholy days. Sip it and say there is no solace for the soul, no tonic for the body like old Bourbon whiskey.
* The Mister adds that the “julep” is Persian in origin, meaning “rose water.”
Learn more about the Kentucky Derby after the break…
The Derby is the first leg of the American Triple Crown and is followed by the Preakness and then the Belmont. Unlike the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, which took hiatuses in 1891-1893 and 1911-1912, respectively, the Kentucky Derby has been run every consecutive year since May 17, 1875.
The Kentucky Derby, inspired by the Epsom Derby in England and a the Grand Prix de Paris, was created by the Col. M. Lewis Clark, Jr., grandson of William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Clark had visited the Epsom Derby in 1872 and thereafter traveled to Paris where a group of racing enthusiasts had formed the French Jockey Club and organized the Grand Prix de Paris.
Returning home to Kentucky, Clark organized a Jockey Club of his own, the Louisville Jockey Club. Through this venture, Clark raised money to build quality racing facilities just outside of the city. The track would soon become known as Churchill Downs, named for John and Henry Churchill, who provided the land for the racetrack. Officially, the racetrack was incorporated as Churchill Downs in 1937.
Fun Facts: On May 3, 1952, the first national television coverage of the Kentucky Derby took place. In 1973, the great Secretariat set the speed record for the Derby at 1:59:40. Over 100,000 mint juleps are consumed at the Derby.