What’s a Derby Without a Mint Julep, Even on the First Saturday in September
By Jenny Kellner
In this most extraordinary year of thoroughbred racing, with the Kentucky Derby set for Sept. 5 instead of its traditional date on the first Saturday in May, one thing remains constant: the Mint Julep.
The drink of the Derby for nearly 100 years, about 120,000 Mint Juleps are served at Churchill Downs on your normal Derby Day. That won’t happen in the 146th edition because no fans are allowed to attend due to COVID-19 health and safety concerns.
Nonetheless, we hereby offer not only the official recipe of the Mint Julep – straight from Churchill Downs – we’re also including one of our favorite julep recipes: the Elderberry Julep from our friends at Food52.com and the recipe’s creator, hardlikearmour.
So, whether you’re lucky enough to snag the real thing at Churchill Downs, or you’re attending a Derby party while social distancing, here’s our julep exacta:
(from Food52.com contributor hardlikearmour)
Serves 2 – Prep time 5 minutes
Ingredients: (Serves 2)
- 15 to 20 large spearmint leaves
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 3 oz bourbon
- 2 oz St. Germain
- 1 1/2 ounces strained grapefruit juice (preferably fresh squeezed)
- Combine mint and honey in martini shaker. Muddle thoroughly. I use the end of a wooden spoon, as I don’t have a proper muddler. You want the mint to exude some juices, and almost form a syrup with the honey so put some muscle in it!
- Put 2 to 3 ice cubes into each of two 7 to 8 ounce glasses, and set aside.
- Add the bourbon, St. Germain, grapefruit juice, and a handful of ice cubes to the shaker. Shake vigorously for about 15 shakes.
- Strain into prepared glasses. Garnish with a mint sprig if you’re feeling fancy. Take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy!
Note: One of the taste testers happened to be the author of this story, Jenny Kellner. In her test kitchen notes for the recipe, Jenny wrote: “You won’t need a fancy hat and a copy of the Daily Racing Form to appreciate Hardlikearmour’s zingy take on the classic Kentucky cocktail. The time-honored pairing of bourbon and mint turns tangy with the addition of fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice. It’s all tempered by the subtle sweetness of the St. Germaine. Top shelf bourbon is a must – we used Ridgemont Reserve “1792” – and if you have a frosted silver mint julep cup to serve it in, so much the better. In any case, odds are you’ll enjoy this delightful drink all summer long, not just on the first Saturday in May.
And now on to the traditional Mint Julep. As noted by Churchill Downs, requirements for creating so many tens of thousands of these drinks include more than 10,000 bottles of Old Forester Mint Julep Ready-to-Serve Cocktail, 1,000 pounds of freshly harvested mint and 60,000 pounds of ice.
Serves 2 – Prep time 5 minutes
- 3 oz Old Forester Mint Julep
- 0.75 oz Simple Syrup
- 8-10 mint leaves
- 3 mint sprigs, for garnish
- Pack mint julep cup with crushed ice.
- In a mixing glass, combine bourbon, syrup, and mint leaves.
- Lightly bruise mint leaves with a muddler, strain contents into julep cup. Garnish with 3 generous sprigs of mint.
*Make sure to slap mint and insert straw into ice near mint.
Jenny Kellner is an award-winning journalist and proud owner of Toby, an 11-year-old prize-winning palomino quarter horse. Jenny was among the first female sports columnists in the United States, and has worked for the New York Times, the New York Post, the New York Daily News, and Newsday. Jenny also was a senior media director at the New York Racing Association, and has been an elementary school and middle-school teacher in New York, and currently in Colorado.