The mint julep, synonymous with the Kentucky Derby, has been a tradition at Churchill Downs since 1938. The track’s official drink typically gets served in a silver cup. The simple concoction consists of premium Kentucky bourbon, simple syrup and fresh mint.
I grew up on Rockingham Farm, named for all of the rocks and stone outcroppings on the property. One of my favorite memories there is of having my first mint julep on the afternoon I had graduated from St. Anne’s School.
On that warm day at the end of May, we celebrated my graduation and my father’s birthday. I was so excited to give my diploma to him as a birthday present — no more tuition bills for him, at least on my account.
A good friend, Tom Rutherfoord had arrived for both celebrations. While snooping around the bar, Tom spied some silver goblets with “Rockingham” etched on them. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, mint juleps were being served.
The goblets are perfect for this icy cold cocktail, and I am fortunate to be keeper of these beautiful vessels. They come out but once a year — the first weekend in May for the Virginia Gold Cup or the Kentucky Derby.
Be forewarned that one will suffice. Quite potent, a mint julep should be sipped slowly.
1 cup of water
1 cup of sugar
2 bunches of fresh mint
4 cups of a premium Kentucky Bourbon
First make the simple syrup. Bring the water to a boil and then add the sugar. Stir until the sugar has completely dissolved. Add one bunch of the mint leaves and let steep until cooled
Strain the syrup into a pitcher and add the bourbon, stir and chill before serving. When ready to serve, pour the blend over a glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a sprig of mint.
Normally when making a mint julep, one would place the mint leaves in a highball glass or silver Jefferson cup and muddle the leaves and sugar together. Then fill the glass with crushed ice and add the bourbon.
That’s fine when making only one or two, but when serving a crowd, a pitcher made in advance is a lot easier. Make it ahead of time and chill until ready to serve.