How To Make The Perfect Mint Julep For Derby Day

By Paul Leddy in Food on May 3, 2013 2:30PM

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Tomorrow, there will be many parties hosted to celebrate the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby. Many mint-juleps, the classic cocktail associated with the derby, will be raised in the air and then many faces will be contorted in response to sipping the cocktail.

When done correctly, the mint julep (as I experienced recently at the Violet Hour) is sublime, with the perfect balance of bourbon and sweetness and the underlying flavor of mint with each sip. When done incorrectly, the heat from the alcohol in the bourbon along with the unappealing vegetal flavor of over-muddled mint can be the dominating flavors.

We asked Robby Haynes, head bartender at The Violet Hour, how he makes the perfect mint julep. He confesses that his take on the mint julep is "ill informed, highly opinionated, and historically inaccurate." However, it is delicious, and on Derby Day, that's all that matters. Robby also says that he gets The Violet Hour's non-traditional mint julep cups from stores on Devon. If you don't have a traditional julep cup, an old-fashioned glass could work.

He went on:

"Most people cannot make a good mint julep. That is a fact. The devil, as always, is in the details. I was fortunate enough to work and train under some highly opinionated but very talented bartenders when I first started out. My methodology is some amalgamation of a handful of preparations that I have seen that worked. Such is bartending. Such is making drinks. If we are to learn anything from the julep it's that when working with so few ingredients, there is nothing to hide behind.

I start by very gently pressing a handful of mint into the bottom of the julep cup. Just enough to release some of the oil. 'Mint smells great but it tastes like shit.' Thats an actual quote. Lightly drag the mint up and down the sides of the julep cup then discard. Now smell the cup. (It should smell) awesome.

I always use bourbon that's 100 proof or higher (except when I don't). I like 3 ounces of booze and a very skinny half ounce of 2:1 Demerara syrup. For some, that may be a little stiff. For me, though, it's the golden ratio. Dump some cracked or crushed ice (Sonic sells "pebble ice" for under $2 a bag), give it a short swizzle and that's a wrap. Garnish extravagantly when you can. Spank the mint. As awkward as that sounds and looks, its totally worth it. Drink. Quickly.

Enjoy Derby Day!