Saturday, May 05, 2007


The crowd is gathered at Churchill Downs, making ready for the annual running of the Kentucky Derby, the first piece of Fancy Headgear in thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown. Since She Who Must Be Obeyed is a distant relative of Winston Churchill, it might have been appropriate for them to extend an invitation for her to see the race, perhaps sitting with Queen Elizabeth II, Her Veddy-Ownself. But no.

Nevertheless, it will be an enjoyable race, for I am partaking of the Official Beverage of the Kentucky Derby: the fabled Mint Julep.

Mint Julep
The Official Beverage of the Kentucky Derby.

It’s easy to make a Julep. Just make up some simple syrup by boiling equal parts sugar and water. Put a couple of tablespoons of syrup in a glass (or, if you’re a purist, in a silver Julep Cup) and add ten fresh spearmint leaves. Muddle them together with a wooden spoon or pestle, then fill the glass with crushed ice. Add enough bourbon (I used Wild Turkey 101 for the one shown above) to fill the glass, then give it one or two quick stirs with a swizzle stick. Garnish with a sprig of mint. Enjoy.

As with barbecue, I’m sure there are a myriad schools of thought on the exact technique one must employ. Differing opinions on the method of muddling the mint leaves alone has, I am sure, led to arguments that have spawned family feuds spanning generations and disputes that have ended friendships of long standing. North versus South? Pfaugh! Nothing compared to “muddle” versus “bruise”!

I first tasted a Mint Julep in May of 1971 when I was a freshman in college. One of my roommates that year was a strapping blond fellow from Arlington, Virginia - a Southern Gentleman of the first water. On Derby Day, he insisted that we procure the ingredients for proper Mint Juleps, and this we succeeded in doing, despite being three years short of the statutory Legal Drinking Age in New Jersey. (Had I been home in New York where the drinking age was eighteen at the time, it would have been a non-issue.) We scored a bottle of J.W. Dant bonded bourbon: not a Top-Shelf Product, but one that had a hundred good reasons to recommend it. The mint, we managed to scavenge from the herb garden adjoining one of the Eating Clubs.

That first Mint Julep was a revelation. The icy cold bourbon melded perfectly with the crisp, cool mint, making each swallow a blast of springtime...followed by the gut-warming jolt of the alcohol. It was unforgettable.

I have considered myself an adopted Son of the South ever since, and have proved it by spending most of my life living in Texas or Georgia.

Elisson: Putting the Julep in the Jew since 1971!

Update: The winnah - Street Sense!

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