I love the summer Olympics. I’ve been known to enjoy the game of baseball. But as far as sporting events go, nothing gets a higher grade from me than the Kentucky Derby. It’s thrillingly paced, for one. Then there’s the tiny little men on horses, the wagering, and spectators dressing up in pretty outfits and ridiculous hats. (The Brits, it seems, have no monopoly on improbable millinery. I’m predicting Princess Beatrice knockoffs at Churchill Downs this year.) And, no small thing here, the day’s proceedings have an official cocktail: the inimitable mint julep, served in frosty silver cups.
And oh, am I fond of mint juleps. The husky bourbon, the touch of sweetness, the perky bit of mint. I’m so fond of them, in fact, that I have one each year on my birthday and served them at my wedding. (I had read that Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky, who lived for a time in the historic house where our reception was held, introduced the libation to his DC colleagues at a bar down the street. Good enough for me!) Mint juleps taste like the South itself, of sun-dappled front porches, seersucker and early summer, and go down far easier than they should.
Juleps are a fairly labor-intensive drink, so if they’re prepared one at a time all that ice-crushing and mint-muddling can pull a hostess away from the festivities. This clever recipe uses a mint-infused simple syrup (try it as a sweetener for iced tea, too) to make a batch for a whole crowd of boisterous Derby watchers. Go, baby, go!
adapted from the Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook, 2006; makes about 1 quart or 9 drinks
- 1/2 C (4 oz) mint simple syrup (recipe follows)
- 4 C (32 oz) bourbon
- 2 stems plus 18 sprigs fresh mint
- 9 C crushed or cracked ice
- cold water or seltzer (optional)
In a 2-quart pitcher, mix the mint simple syrup, the bourbon and stems of mint; stir to combine. For each julep, put 1/2 C ice in a cup (or rocks glass) and pour 1/2 c (4 oz) of the bourbon mixture over it. Garnish with a mint sprig and top with cold water or seltzer, if desired.
Mint Simple Syrup
adapted from the Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook, 2006; makes 1 C (8 oz)
- 1 C sugar
- 1/2 C (4 oz) water
- 1/2 C fresh mint leaves, tightly packed
In a small saucepan, combine the ingredients over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon and smashing the mint leaves and sugar together. After the sugar has dissolved (about 2-3 minutes), cover and take off the heat. Let steep for half an hour.
Strain the syrup into a glass container with a tight-fitting lid and store in the refrigerator, up to two weeks.