The Mint Julep: Accept no substitutes
In my last post, I promised you my three favorite cocktails for Derby week. Then, I started to write this story and I suddenly became a purist. There really is only one drink that exemplifies the Kentucky Derby: The Mint Julep. All week I have been reading fancy Mint Julep recipes with weird ingredients. At one point, a local bartender put boar’s protein instead of an egg white into his mint julep. Eh – what? Who has ever heard of a Mint Julep with an egg white, much less the protein froth from a boar rib– nasty. Let’s get back to the basics. Everybody calm down, you can make it at home, I promise.
Full disclosure: bourbon and I are not friends. In fact, we divorced shortly after college graduation. But we reunite each Derby week and ONLY because of this drink and ONLY because my friend Craig Heuser makes the best one I have ever had.
I asked Craig to reveal his recipe and he proceeded to write a prosaic process. Rather than butcher his words, I have copied them verbatim below. Introducing my favorite home bartender, Craig Heuser, and his blue-ribbon mint julep recipe.
A Traditional Mint Julep
Collect your ingredients: one big bunch of mint, sugar & water, ice, and, of course, bourbon. The bourbon doesn’t need to be of the highest quality. In fact, you are actually preparing to ruin the bourbon by adding something other than ice to it, so save your money for something important – like ibuprofen for the next morning.
First, you need to make a simple syrup which only consists of boiling some water with sugar in it. Easy. I prefer to boil down one heaping cup of sugar for each cup of water. Once you’ve brought the liquid to a boil and all of the sugar is dissolved, turn down the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about five minutes. That’s it. You’re finished. It’s called simple syrup for a reason.
While you are allowing that to cool down a bit, wash your mint, shake it dry and pull the leaves off of the stem. I always put them into a wide and shallow Tupperware container because it is easier to dole out the syrup when it’s time for a drink. Next, pour the sugar-water over the mint leaves and leave it uncovered until the concoction is at room temperature. Then, store in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
On Derby morning, fill a cup with ice. For some reason, bagged ice works best but any kind will do. Start by putting one tablespoon of your minty simple syrup without the leaves into the cup. Pour in as much bourbon as you think might do the trick and then add a splash of water to top it off (remember, your ice will melt down so don’t add too much). Stir it all up and taste.
Ahhh, tastes like a hangover.
Add more syrup, water or bourbon to your preference and then throw a sprig of mint in the glass. But if you’re like me, you completely forgot to save some mint so just go without the salad. Enjoy!