Beyond the Mint Julep

Around Derby time in Kentucky horse country you’re likely to hear spirited debates about jockeys, breeders and trainers, but the fiercest disagreements are generally reserved for a cocktail, the Mint Julep.

                 Muddled –vs- Bruised Mint

                 Sugar Cubes –vs- Powdered Sugar

                 Simple Syrup –vs- Sugar

                 Cracked Ice –vs- Shaved Ice

Personally, I’m ok with any technique that results in a sweet, slushy, refreshing and strong Julep. You’re a muddler? Muddle in peace my friend. You think simple syrup is an outrage? Rage on my Kentucky gentleman brother. You think the sugar cube is superior? Well then mate, I’ll happily tip a glass with you while you extoll on the slow melting virtues of pressed sucrose.

Seriously, I don’t want to fight with anyone. I just want to drink my minty-sweet bourbon and pretend for just one day that I care about horseracing.

But just as man cannot live on bread alone, no Derby Day party should offer only one sweet bourbon cocktail. During our recent Kentucky adventure, author and bourbon fan Richard Grant and I met two people who happily offered to give us their unorthodox takes on the classic Mint Julep.

The Seelbach Hotel in downtown Louisville is known for it’s bar and the fact that it was a favorite haunt of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Al Capone. You don’t have to use much imagination to picture either of these icons propped on an elbow at the bar or tucked into a cozy booth at the Seelbach Bar. Brian Berlin, the Seelbach’s Director of Food and Beverages offered us a cocktail called the Minted Gold along with its origin story.

Big Bob Knott (who Brian refers to as a “Reformed accountant, turned mixologist”) was asked to develop a cocktail for a women’s bourbon group and he came up with this variation on the julep. It was so well received that he entered the drink into a new drink competition hosted by the Seelbach and won. His cocktail earned a spot on the menu, right next to the venerated Seelbach Cocktail and the classic Mint Julep.

MINT JULEP

Ingredients

  • 1 oz. simple syrup (or 1 sugar cube or 1 tsp. sugar)
  • 6 fresh mint leaves
  • 3 oz. Kentucky Bourbon
  • Ice (shaved, crushed or cracked with a wooden mallet in a bar towel or Lewis bag)
  • Sprig of mint for garnish
Directions

Combine mint and simple syrup in the bottom of a julep glass and muddle (or stir) with just a little bit of ice.

Add bourbon and stir well.

Add ice and stir again until the sides of the glass get frosty.

Garnish with mint sprig.

MINTED GOLD

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 ounces bourbon
  • 1/2 oz. fresh orange juice
  • 1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 oz. simple syrup
  • Drizzle of honey
Directions

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice.

Shake well and strain into a rocks glass over a single large ice cube.

Garnish with sprig of mint.

Lindsay Ofcacek, General Manager and Sommelier at 610 Magnolia, Chef Ed Lee’s innovative Southern restaurant in Louisville, shared her favorite with us.

“Derby week is also the week when we first start to see great strawberries coming in from our Western Kentucky farmers.” She said. “We love the way the sweetness of the strawberries pairs perfectly with the bourbon and balances the spice of the ginger.”

DRINK ME, ALICE

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 ounces Kentucky bourbon
  • 2 ounces Goslings ginger beer
  • 1 sugar cube
  • 6-7 mint leaves
  • 2 fresh strawberries
Directions

In a julep tin or rocks glass, add mint leaves, strawberries and sugar cube and a splash of water. Gently press mint leaves with a muddler to release oils.

Add whiskey, Goslings ginger beer, crushed ice and stir gently.

Serve over crushed ice in a julep cup.

Garnish with a mint bouquet and a strawberry

 

Written by Tom Ramsey / Photography by Scott Speakes