The Kentucky Derby isn’t just a horse race. It’s a chance to gawk at people wearing funny hats (though this year it may not be as satisfying as the royal wedding’s offerings) and drink Mint Juleps.
Juleps are simple: Bourbon, simple syrup and fresh mint served over ice. The drink has been popular in the south — and especially around Kentucky’s bourbon distilleries — since the 1700s. It’s been the official beverage of the Kentucky Derby for 15 years. According to Culinate.com, more than 80,000 juleps are served during the event.
Think of it as the twangy cousin of the Mojito. At home, serving your juleps in glassware is perfectly acceptable, but the drinks are traditionally served in silver or pewter mugs. If you opt for that route, chill them before you pour.
We asked cookbook author (“The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook”) and USA Today columnist Kim O’Donnel (who happens to be married to a native Kentuckian) to share her recipe.
Kim O’Donnel’s Mint Julep
First, make a mint-flavored simple syrup:
1 cup confectioner sugar
1 cup water (in that proportion, so if you’re making a lot, do 3 cups each)
Add the sugar to water that’s heating on the stove — helps it dissolve. Use a bit of extra water if needed. Let the mixture cool. Take mint leaves that you’ve chopped up roughly and put them in the syrup. In the fridge, let the leaves steep in the syrup overnight or at least for several hours.
On Derby day, strain the syrup to get the mint leaves out. They’ll turn black and ugly while steeping.
Then, get some good bourbon (we’ll leave the brand up to you) and crushed (not cubed!) ice.
And you still need fresh mint — washed and on the stems.
Fill a 6 or 8 ounce cup (ideally a metal julep cup) with crushed ice. Pour in 1 ounce bourbon, then pour the mint-flavored syrup in to cover the ice. Stick a sprig of mint in it — a big sprig, kinda like a big celery stalk in a Virgin Mary, and drink it.
Done and done.