April showers bring May flowers. What do Mayflowers bring?
– DID YOU KNOW that the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock because the Captain was running low on beer? It’s true! May flowers (specifically ROSES) also bring the running of the Kentucky Derby the first Saturday in May, and the ubiquitous Mint Julep – a break from beer and many people’s introduction to bourbon. So what IS bourbon? Where beer may be the hydrating beginnings of our American history, bourbon is our roots.
As the saying goes: all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. Bourbon is uniquely American born and bred, made from 51% or higher corn mash, rye, and barley, and aged in charred white oak barrels (used only once…then sent off for things like maple syrup, or to Mexico for tequila). ONLY water is allowed to be added, so a true bourbon is only flavored from the charcoal and time. The barrels are hand lovingly rotated to round out the flavors and aged at minimum 2 years (most every distiller ages much longer than that, and it will say the time on the bottle). In 1964, Congress declared bourbon “America’s Native Spirit,” and as such it is only allowed to be produced in the U.S. (Kentucky specifically) – like Champagne in France – adding any additional flavors downgrades it to things like honey whiskey, Tennessee whiskey, Moonshine. In the end we get to enjoy the uniquely sweet silk mouthfeel and rich fire of bourbon. To boot, the whole thing is LITERALLY THE LAW! (See 27 CFR §5.22, (b)(1)(i) )
Here are three fun trivia tidbits you can tell at your Kentucky Derby Party (YOU ARE HAVING A KENTUCKY DERBY PARTY RIGHT?!?!??! and making the juleps I’m about to post, and hot gluing your crazy hat flowers on as we speak… RIGHT.)
- 90% of all disco balls made in the U.S. are made in Kentucky
- The term “brand name” came from the burned brands of distillers on their oak barrel covers to display to patrons of saloons – they could ask for their bourbon by “brand name.”
- Every year, about 120,000 mint juleps are sold at Churchill Downs during the two day Oaks and Derby event. Since NO ONE wants to muddle that much mint, they actually sell pre-made juleps in bottles from Old Forester (the first brand to begin bottling their bourbon in 1870). The official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby is Woodford Reserve, which is what I will be using today – because I have slightly fewer houseguests.
Kentucky Bourbon. (some suggestions – Woodford Reserve, Makers Mark, Four Roses, Basil Hayden’s (the lightest proof at 80)…if you’re feeling frisky go ahead and get Wild Turkey 101 proof – but do not blame me for your actions). The lower the proof (40% = 80 proof, double the % of alchohol for the proof – it’s on the bottle), the more the sweet bourbon taste. The higher, the more “lighterfluid” experience you have. 🙂
Fresh mint. (they sell it in the produce section – Spearmint is a nice mellow mint, peppermint is a little brasher)
Simple Syrup. (you can boil sugar water at home, but it’s messy – buy a premade at your liquor store – you can even put some of your mint leaves in it and let it infuse a day or two before)
CRUSHED ice. Not cubes. Crushed. (you can take a mallet to your cubes in a bag if you feel like it…could relieve some tension, or bust them up in a blender)
FOR THE CLASSIC Silver cup, you can find some nice mint julep glasses from $10.00 at Bed Bath & Beyond, or you can run the gamut on Amazon. If you just want to enjoy your damn party, use any glass you would like – this particular cocktail is as good in plastic as it is in silver. 🙂
The rest is easy street:
In the bottom of your cup take a few sprigs of mint leaves, remove stems, and muddle them with a wooden muddler or the business end of a spoon. Crush the leaves to release the oil and kind of pulp the mint up. Pour about a half shot of simple syrup on top of the mint (you can get creative here if you’re feeling it – maple syrup? flavored syrups that pair with mint? go nuts – but I recommend traditional for your first julep). Pour two very generous shots of bourbon per glass. A tip with bourbon is that there are “solids” in the bottle that open the flavor when you turn the bottle upright and back a few times, so multipours are encouraged, honey. 😉 Now fill the glass with crushed ice and stir a touch. When you watch Southerners make a julep they HEAP crushed ice well above the lip of the glass – because it will melt in that heat. If you’re making this in a colder climate you can cool it on the ice – fill to the top and garnish with a mint sprig. Shove a straw down in that baby and sip away!
These are strong. Eat a canapé. Take a sweet tea break in between juleps. Bet on the grey. Wear your BIGGEST HAT. I’ll post my GLORIOUS surprise Derby Hat picture tomorrow along with guests and juleps.
GO BABY GO! Happy Derby-ing!
(OK! Now go back and read this post in Annie Pott’s voice!)
Here is a cool timeline as well, for you trivia buffs out there.