Your Saturday sip: Mint Julep

Written by Gretchen McKay on


You know it's Kentucky Derby time when you can't find a single sprig of fresh mint in your grocery's produce section.

At least that was the case last night at the Camp Horne Giant Eagle, where I searched in vain for the fragrant green herb. 

I'd gotten a sample of A Taste of Kentucky Mint Julep Mix early in the week, and needed a few sprigs for the garnish. But apparently, many others had the same bright idea.

"Nobody's got it," the woman standing in line behind me at the adjoining liquor store complained to the clerk. She, too, was holding a bottle of Kentucky bourbon, though hers was bigger. (While my husband's a fan of whiskey, I'd rather spend my money on beer.)

As I contemplated going home by way of Kuhn's, or maybe just bagging the idea of a garnish altogether -- the mix included powdered mint syrup -- my husband suddenly remembered a neighbor had posted a picture earlier in the day on Facebook of her runaway mint crop. Maybe she wouldn't mind if we snipped a handful or two?

She didn't (thanks, Denise!) and a short while later, I was blind taste-testing a julep made with the packaged mix (pictured in the collage above on the bottom right) against one made the old-fashioned way, with homemade mint-seeped simple syrup (top left). 

One guess which one was better!  

Though I have to say, I did like the neon green glow of the one made with the mix. 

In case you, too, would like to celebrate tomorrow's 139th annual running of the Kentucky Derby in Louisville (it starts at 6:24 p.m., with Florida Derby winner Orb the early favorite), here's the official recipe served at Churchill Downs Racetrack.  It calls for Early Times Kentucky Whisky, which is aged at least three years and barreled in used oak barrels. But the Ezra Brooks Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey we used (from a cheaper, smaller bottle) tasted just fine. 

Tradition calls for serving the drink in a silver-plated or pewter mint julep cup, but we used cocktail glasses. Garnished with lots of fresh, free  mint.

The Early Times Mint Julep Recipe

* 2 cups sugar

* 2 cups water

* Sprigs of fresh mint

* Crushed ice

* Early Times Kentucky Whisky

* Silver Julep cups

Make a simple syrup by boiling sugar and water together for 5 minutes. Cool and place in a covered container with 6 or 8 sprigs of fresh mint, then refrigerate overnight.

Make 1 julep at a time by filling a julep cup with crushed ice, adding 1 tablespoon mint syrup and 2 ounces of Early Times Kentucky Whisky. Stir rapidly with a spoon to frost the outside of the cup. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

Photos: Gretchen McKay (top left and bottom right) and Kentucky Derby

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