Three Mint Julep Recipes to Celebrate the Kentucky Derby   

Derby Day isn’t complete without the “official” drink of the Kentucky Derby, the mint julep. It has been served to the winning rider and relished by fans for more than a century.

The first time I tasted a mint julep was in the infield at the Kentucky Derby in 1993. I was hooked. The tradition. The ceremony. The sweet bourbon and fresh mint melting away my cares. I made a point of going back to Churchill Downs several years in a row to collect the commemorative glasses that the juleps are served in.

While I won’t be in Louisville for the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby this Saturday, you can bet I’ll be sipping on a mint julep. I have my favorite recipe, but I decided to ask a couple experts to share their favorite recipes.

Mark Shilling, co-founder of Revolution Spirits, makers of Austin Reserve Gin, and Clay Inscoe, chef, mixologist, and distilling scientist at Treaty Oak Distilling both provided variations on the classic recipe. I kept their recipes in-tact, but swapped out their preferred bourbon or whiskey for an expression of Four Roses Bourbon.

Here are three great mint julep recipes for you to enjoy during the Kentucky Derby.

Classic Mint Julep Recipe
Classic Mint Julep Recipe

What Are You Drinking? Classic Mint Julep

  • 3 ounces Four Roses Bourbon Yellow
  • .5 ounce mint simple syrup
  • Fresh mint sprigs
  • Crushed ice

Mint simple syrup: prepare simple syrup by boiling 2 cup of granulated sugar in 2 cup of distilled water for 5 minutes. Stir it constantly to make sure it doesn’t burn. Set aside in a covered container to cool with a handful of fresh mint tossed in (6 to 8 sprigs). You can prepare it ahead of time and refrigerate it overnight.

Mint julep: Make each julep by filling a silver julep cup (or an old-fashioned glass if you don’t have the silver cup) with crushed ice, add the mint simple syrup and three ounces of Four Roses Bourbon. Stir like a demon until the glass frosts. Top it off with more ice and stir again before serving. Pop in a sprig of mint and serve. Drink, repeat.

A little about the whiskey: Four Roses Bourbon Yellow is a straight bourbon whiskey made by blending   10 of the distillery’s recipes. It’s smooth and easy going and a good choice for cocktails. 80 proof, $19.99.

Bold Mint Julep recipe
Bold Mint Julep recipe

Shilling’s Bold Mint Julep

Mark likes a really straight-forward julep just a hint of sweetness. He wants to taste the whiskey.

  • 3 ounces Four Roses Single Barrel (Mark’s preference is Jack Daniels)
  • .25 ounce mint simple syrup
  • Fresh mint sprigs
  • Crushed ice

Prepare the mint simple syrup the same as above. Start each julep by muddling 5 or 6 mint leaves in the bottom of a julep cup or an old-fashioned glass, fill it with crushed ice, add the dash of mint simple syrup and a healthy pour of Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon (3 ounces is a reference point). Stir with potency until the glass frosts. Top it off with more ice, stir again, garnish with a sprig of mint and serve.

A little about the whiskey: Four Roses Single Barrel has more swagger weighing in at 100 proof. It’s a good sipping whiskey that doesn’t need to be muddied up with cocktail fixins. $39.99.

Red-Handed Bourbon Mint Julep. Photo courtesy of Proof and Cooper
Red-Handed Bourbon Mint Julep. Photo courtesy of Proof and Cooper

Ko Julep

Clay’s recipe is a little more involved, which is to be expected because this guy is a serious chef and a mad scientist in the distillery. His Ko Julep recipe is inspired by the islands of Thailand. (Ko means island in Thai.)

Blend well, pour over full cup of crushed or shaved ice, garnish with lime wheel and fresh mint sprig

Ko syrup:

  • 3 cups water
  • 3 cups white sugar

Bring mix to a light simmer and make sure all sugar is fully dissolved. Then add the following ingredients to the hot simple syrup:

  • 12 sprigs of fresh mint (roughly chopped, stem and all)
  • 1 stalk lemongrass (roughly chopped)
  • zest of 2 limes
  • 50 grams fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 12 sprigs of Thai basil (roughly chopped, stem and all)

Cover pot and let aromatics steep for 1 hour, strain syrup, chill and mix with spirit

A little about the whiskey: Four Roses Small Batch is made with a blend of four of the distillery’s bourbon recipes. It’s a mellow whiskey with spicy flavors along with sweet, fruity aromas and hints of sweet oak and caramel. It’s tasty on its own and a decent stand in for the excellent Red-Handed Bourbon. 90 proof, $29.99.

Disclosure: I was provided samples of all three bottles of Four Roses Bourbon at no cost.

What are you drinking? 

Austin’s Best Bourbon Cocktails at 4th Annual Bourbon, Bluegrass and BBQ

This Tuesday, September 24 from 6:30 to 9:30PM at Mercury Hall, 615 Cardinal Ln., some of Austin’s best bartenders will whip-up amazing cocktails made with more than 30 American whiskies at Bourbon, Bluegrass and BBQ. This is an excellent way to taste through a bunch of bourbon during Bourbon Heritage Month.

In it’s 4th Year, the Austin Chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild (USBG) ‘Bourbon, Bluegrass and BBQ’ brings 16 of Austin’s baddest bartenders together in friendly competition. USBG member-bartenders participating represent the chapter’s best cocktail venues including: drink.well., Midnight Cowboy, Contigo Austin, The W Hotel, Whisler’s, NoVa, Esquire Tavern (San Antonio), East Side Showroom, The League and The Turtle (Brownwood, TX).

Using a randomly selected Bourbon, contestants will craft an original cocktail to be judged during a live competition held at the event. The winner earns the spot as the official USBG Austin ambassador at Portland Cocktail Week in October 2013. I’m thrilled to be a judge this year and am looking forward to tasting some of the bourbon brilliance.

Its obvious from the name, Bourbon, Bluegrass and BBQ, has more than just cocktails. It also will have all you can eat BBQ and live music from the Sour Bridges and The Possum Posse.

Celebrated in tandem with Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM) Benefit day, the event proceeds will benefit the Alliance, which is USBG Austin’s 2012-2013 philanthropic beneficiary. The whole sheebang is put together by the Austin Chapter of the USBG and the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (H.A.A.M.) and spearheaded by event chair, Jessica Sanders, who is the secretary of the Austin Chapter of the USBG and co-owner/bar maven of drink.well.

Tickets are a steal at $35. Buy ’em online before you go.

This story also appeared on CultureMap.

What are you drinking? 

Celebrate Bourbon Heritage Month with Texas Whiskey, Austin Cocktails

Kentucky Bourbon for National Bourbon Heritage MonthWe have a wealth of opportunities to celebrate bourbon in this country, and for that we can thank Congress. Not only did that esteemed body pronounce the homegrown whiskey “America’s Native Spirit” in 1964, but a 2007 Senate bill declared every September hence to be National Bourbon Heritage Month. This is one time when we can get behind the decisions of our government.

Some boozy history
Of course, whiskey in general isn’t an American product, but the specific type known as bourbon is. There are old-world whiskies, such as Scotch or Irish, and new-world whiskies — bourbon, Canadian, Tennessee, rye, corn, wheat and blended.

We owe a debt of gratitude to a Baptist minister from Kentucky, Elijah Craig, who first made bourbon in 1798. The processes Craig set in motion have evolved into standards that make bourbon a unique distilled spirit.

Ever since, we’ve had the happy luxury of dreaming dreams that fatten on the vapors of bourbon. Ah bourbon.

Whiskey must comply with stiff regulations to qualify as bourbon. It is made from fermented mash of grain — which includes not less than 51 percent corn — that is distilled to no more than 160 proof; entered into and aged in charred, brand-new oak barrels at no more than 125 proof; and bottled at no less than 80 proof. There can be no colors or flavors added — ever.

Within the strict rules, distillers can coax an array of flavors by creating their own mash bill, or grain recipe. Increasing the corn percentage can give it sweet flavors; adding rye gives it pepper, spice and bite; wheat brings out mellowness; and malted barley adds chocolate with fermented sugars.

The use of sour mash — that thin, watery part of a previously distilled batch of whiskey mash that is added into the next batch, a step Dr. James C. Crow developed in 1823 — also affects the flavor.

The biggest impact on flavor, though, is the barrel. It’s all about the oak. The wood seasoning (“toast” or “char”), along with conditions in the warehouse where the barrel is stored (the “rick house”) — including its size, the location of the barrel, and temperature swings and extremes — contributes to the flavor as much as the age, proof, blending and batch.

Many people think that bourbon can be made only in Kentucky; others think it requires water from a pure limestone aquifer in Kentucky. Both conceptions are myths. Bourbon can be made anywhere in the United States — including Texas.

Accidental birth of a fine Texas spirit
One night in Waco, Chip Tate set out to make a Mediterranean knock-off of bananas Foster. He concocted a treat of figs, honey and sugar, letting them giggle in the delight of a splash of whiskey that would inflame them. The result was so good that Tate wondered what they would taste like fermented and distilled. That night, with ideas fatten on the vapors of caramelized figs, Tate decided to distill those figs, honey and sugar and the first Texas-made whiskey was born; Balcones Rumble.

Tate’s Balcones Distillery started selling its whiskey in 2009 and has been making original Texas whiskey with Hopi blue corn ever since. Its lineup is, for the most part, distinctly different from bourbon, having a lot of similarities to Scottish malt. But the ever-tinkering Tate made a small batch of bourbon to satisfy his thirsty fans.

“We made a bourbon that is cask-strength at 64.2 percent alcohol,” Tate says. “We only made a few barrels of bourbon, which equates to 42 bottles for sale in Texas, and only 18 were sent to off-premise [not at a restaurant or bar] for sale. Our bourbon aged a little more than two years in the barrel.”

It tastes of honey, baking spice, toast and pepper, with a tannic tightness on the palate. The spice of the bourbon might make one assume that the mash contains rye, but it’s 100 percent blue corn — an indication of how much impact the barrel and aging conditions can have on the flavor.

Balcones whiskies are available in Austin at select retail stores and bars, including TenOak, the Tigress and Fino.

Serious Texas distillery
A little farther south, Dan Garrison started his in Hye, Texas, distillery in 2006 and bottled his first batch in 2010. Garrison Brothers makes the first vintage dated bourbon ever produced.

They consider the limestone substrate of the Texas Hill Country to be similar in many ways to the bedrock in Kentucky, producing a similar style of water for bourbon-making. Garrison Brothers follows regulations to the letter and hand-bottles every bit of bourbon that it ages in the Texas heat.

That dedication to craftsmanship means that it is available only in limited supply in Austin stores and sold by the bottle at The W Austin.

Many people contend that the only proper way to drink bourbon is straight up, on ice, or with a splash of water. Purists, please avert your gazes at this time. Bourbon is fantastic in a variety of cocktails. Several fine Austin establishments have generously shared their fantastic recipes for National Bourbon Heritage Month.

Drink.Well., The Cat’s Pajamas

  • 2 oz. Four Roses Single Barrel
  • .75 oz. Savory & James Cream Sherry
  • .5 oz. Cynar
  • 2 dashes Barkeep Chinese Five Spice Bitters
  • Apple slices

Add all ingredients together and stir. Pour into a chilled Leopold’s coupe and garnish with fanned apple slices.

Contigo cocktail Contigo, The Dancing Outlaw

  • 1.5 oz. Bulliet bourbon
  • 5 oz. Domain de Canton Ginger liqueur
  • .75 oz. lemon verbena syrup
  • .75 ounce lemon juice
  • 3 dashes of Bad Dog Fire and Damnation bitters

Shaken, strained over cracked ice, then garnished with a lemon zest and a lemon verbena leaf.

Put lemon verbena syrup in a saucepan. Add 1 quart water, 1.5 quarts brown sugar, stir and bring to a boil. Then add 3 bunches (handfuls) of lemon verbena leaves. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, allow to cool, bottle and store up to two weeks.

Lucy's Fried Chicken Cocktail Lucy’s Fried Chicken, Texas Whiskey Revival

  • .75 oz. Balcones True Blue Whiskey
  • .75 oz. St. Germain
  • 1 oz. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 bar spoon simple syrup (1:1 ratio hot water and sugar)

In a rocks glass, add all the ingredients plus ice. Shake and pour back into glass. Garnish with your favorite cherry and citrus combination. Our favorite is garnished with candied orange peel and bourbon cherries when they are in season.

Jack Allen’s Kitchen, TX Whiskey Shandy

  • 1.5 oz. TX Blended Whiskey (Fort Worth)
  • 2 muddled lemon wedges
  • 1 oz. Round Rock honey-fig syrup
  • 3 oz. of Original Sin Hard Cider

Muddle lemon slices and honey-fig syrup in Collins glass. To avoid bitterness, be sure not to overmuddle. Add scoop of ice and whiskey. Top with hard cider (or fill to top). Roll in and out of shaker tin back into glass until fruit is not on bottom.

Jack Allen’s Kitchen, Eagle Rare Manhattan

  • 2 oz. Eagle Rare 10-Year Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon (JAK’s hand-selected barrel)
  • 1 oz. Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
  • 2 dashes of Angostura aromatic bitters
  • Luxardo maraschino cherry

Place maraschino cherry in bottom of chilled 10 oz. martini glass. In a shaker with ice, stir whiskey, sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters 10 times with bar spoon. Strain into glass over cherry.

 

This story originally ran on CultureMap. Photo credits:

DRINK.WELL. The Cat’s Pajamas – Haley Dawson
Contigo, The Dancing Outlaw – Haley Dawson
Lucy’s Fried Chicken’s, Texas Whiskey Revival – Kelly Rucker
Jack Allen’s Kitchen, TX Whiskey Shandy – Kenny Braun
Jack Allen’s Kitchen Eagle Rare Manhattan – Kenny Braun

All other photos are mine.

What are you drinking?