The Kentucky Derby is May 7, so we went to the heart of bourbon country and got an authentic, yet easy recipe for your Kentucky Derby party.
Break out the gloves and hats*, and enjoy.
1 liter bourbon (Rob recommends Maker’s Mark)
2-3 bunches fresh spearmint
1 cup distilled water
1 cup granulated sugar
To prepare the mint extract, remove about 40 small mint leaves – wash and place in a small mixing bowl. Cover with 3 ounces of Maker’s Mark. Allow the leaves to soak for 15 minutes. Then, gather the leaves in a clean, soap-free piece of cotton cloth and vigorously wring the mint bundle over the bowl of whiskey. Dip the bundle again and repeat the process several times. Then set aside.
To prepare the simple syrup, mix 1 cup of granulated sugar and one cup of water in a cooking pot. Heat to dissolve the sugar. Stir constantly so the sugar does not burn. Set aside to cool.
To prepare the mint julep mixture, pour 3 1/2 cups of Maker’s Mark into a large glass pitcher. (Pour the remaining whiskey from the liter bottle into another container and save it for another purpose). Add 1 cup of the simple syrup to the Maker’s Mark.
Now, begin adding the mint extract a tablespoon at a time to the julep mixture. Each batch of mint extract is different, so you must taste and smell after each tablespoon is added. You may have to leave the room a time or two to clear your nose. The tendency is to use too much mint. You are looking for a soft mint aroma and taste – generally about 3 tablespoons.
When you think it’s right, pour the whole mixture back into the empty liter bottle and refrigerate it for at least 24 hours to “marry” the flavors.
To serve the mint julep, fill each glass (preferably a silver mint julep cup) half full with shaved ice. Insert a sprig of mint and then pack in more ice to about an inch over the top of the cup. Then, insert a straw that has been cut to one inch above the top of the cup so the nose is forced close to the mint when sipping the julep.
When frost forms on the cup, pour the refrigerated julep mixture over the ice, add a sprinkle of powdered sugar to the top of the ice and serve.
Rob Samuels, eighth generation distiller and grandson of Maker’s Mark Founder Bill Samuels Sr., happily offers up his family’s personal recipe for The Perfect Mint Julep
* Need a fun hat or fascinator (that’s what all the British gals wear)? Check out Mattie M in Winnetka for quite a selection.