April is mint julep month in Louisville
Written by: Maggie Kimberl
If there’s one thing that most people universally get wrong about the mint julep, it’s that they are supposed to taste awful. Mint juleps are supposed to be light and refreshing, served in the heat of the late Kentucky spring or early summer in order to keep you cool as you attend your favorite outdoor equestrian sporting events. The main reason most people think mint juleps are bad is that they have just never had a good one, opting to try a premade version and judging the entire category on its slacker cousin.
The month leading up to The Kentucky Derby is a special time in Louisville. The Kentucky Derby Festival is basically a three week party to celebrate a two minute horse race, and the entire month is dedicated to showcasing what a mint julep can really be. On Derby weekend at Churchill Downs, about 120,000 juleps will be served.
According to Stacey Yates, the idea for Mint Julep Month came from the convergence of a perfect storm of factors, from partnerships with local bars and restaurants centering around the cocktail, to a desire to highlight Bourbon’s versatility in the springtime.
“We simply declared it so, sent out a press release about it and starting curating anyone else that wanted to participate,” says Yates. “We had seen the success that National Bourbon Heritage Month had for creating a buzz in September and we thought this would be a nice counterpart to that in the spring for a Bourbon push as well. We created a content page on our website and it really took off when the Courier-Journal wrote about it like it has always ‘been a thing’.”
“The mint julep has been a part of The Kentucky Derby since 1938,” says The Silver Dollar bar manager, Susie Hoyt. “It’s become an important part of the event. The Kentucky Derby is a huge event that people come in from around the world for, so Kentucky and Louisville are are associated with The Kentucky Derby and Mint Juleps, even if it’s not during the Kentucky Derby.”
So where do you find the best mint juleps in Louisville? Start your search on social media, says Yates.
“If you follow #mintjulepmonth – especially on Instagram – you will see some really creative spins from Louisville bars and now throughout the country. We also now feed special offers, events, ideas etc. to a website in partnership with Garden & Gun [at] mintjulepmonth.com.”
Crafting your perfect mint julep
“Mint can be delicate so it needs to be stored properly to prevent wilting,” says Hoyt. “It’s tough to leave mint out on the bar on a hot day, but it can work if you are going through it fast enough. I recommend putting cold water in the bottom of an old fashioned glass and propping the mint up like a bouquet. Sometimes we’ll even throw an ice cube or two in the bottom to keep the water very cold. If the temperature is warm, or the mint is not being used regularly, it needs to be left in the cooler.”
Whether you are going all out and hand-crafting each mint julep to order, or just garnishing your Bourbon and mint simple syrup mix with mint, taking the time to combine the ingredients close to when they will be consumed is the key to a pleasant drinking experience.
“With all due respect to the brands,” says Yates. “I simply think there is no comparison to a scratch-made mint julep. One where the mint has been steeped in simple syrup overnight, served in a proper julep cup, and lightly dusted with powder sugar, which is the Kentucky standard bearer. But I’d also add that my favourites are specifically the ones made by my Nonnie on Derby Day served with Old Forester – the house Bourbon.”
This Mint Julep Month, ditch the premade cocktail and whip up your best scratch recipe. Your Derby guests will thank you.
The Silver Dollar’s Mint Julep recipe by Susie Hoyt
• 5-7 mint leaves
• Crushed ice
• 2 ounces Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon
• 1 ounce demerara syrup
To make the julep, slap 5-7 mint leaves and use a bar spoon to pull the mint leaves up the side of the julep tin. You’ll get a great aroma from the mint oil and all the mint leaves are discarded to prevent any grassy/vegetal notes that come from leaving mint inside the tin. The drink is built in the julep cup so the demerara syrup and Bourbon are added next. Add crushed ice. After a quick swizzle with a bar spoon, crushed ice is filled to the top and packed down so it is level with the top of the tin. Then a snow cone of crushed ice is added to the top and packed in as well. Tap one large mint sprig or two medium sprigs to release the oil and place the garnish at the edge of the glass touching the straw. The effervescent mint aroma is key for the mint julep.
Tim Laird’s “Mint Juleps for Many”
In a chilled julep cup add:
• 2 ounces Woodford Reserve Bourbon
• 1 ounce mint simple syrup
• Crushed ice
• Add a sipping straw and garnish with a large mint sprig.
To make the mint simple syrup:
• 1 part water
• 1 part sugar
• 1 part loosely-packed fresh mint leaves
In a saucepan, combine the water and sugar. Bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. When the water is clear and the sugar is dissolved, remove from the heat and stir in the mint leaves. Allow to steep for 20 minutes. Strain into a glass container and store in the refrigerator.
Note: You can adjust the sweetness of the drink by adding more or less of the mint simple syrup. The mint simple syrup is also a great addition to iced tea.