As an avid horseback rider and having been thrown off a few jittery ex-racer Thoroughbreds, I usually have an issue with horseracing (see: Barbaro ☹). But while the “sport of kings” may be morally questionable, there’s no denying my love for the fanfare that surrounds the Kentucky Derby*: the grandstands, rose garlands, the Brown Hotel, Bob Baffert’s smirk, and most importantly, the Mint Julep (80,000 are consumed each year). In honor of this Saturday’s 140th running, I decided to make Churchill Downs’ classic cocktail for the race Hunter S. Thompson best described as “decadent and depraved.”
Leaves from 4-5 mint sprigs
2 sugar cubes or ½ oz. simple syrup (if using sugar cubes, add a splash of water or club soda)
2 ½ oz. bourbon
Mint sprig for garnish
Place the mint and sugar or simple syrup into a julep cup (I’m finally using mine as something besides flower vases here), Collins glass or old-fashioned glass. Muddle to dissolve sugar and release mint oils. Add bourbon. Fill with crushed ice and stir (And stir well. I can’t get this step right. I end up having three sips of an immediate sugar rush and then am suddenly hit by pure, unadulterated bourbon …which I’m not complaining about). Garnish with mint.
The traditional julep served at Churchill Downs uses Early Times Kentucky Whiskey but I went with classic Maker’s Mark. Woodford Reserve is another favorite. I also like Lexington Bourbon Whiskey (but specifically for the bottle, if I’m being honest).
Side note: Growing up, I had a poster of Thunder Gulch in my childhood bedroom when everyone else had an N’Sync poster (and that pretty much tells you everything you need to know about whether or not I was a late bloomer).
*Going to the Preakness during college…totally different story