Bourbon Drink: Bourbon Bill’s Mint Julep Recipe

Naturally, Mint Juleps are a huge hit at our annual Kentucky Derby party. With the derby just a little over a week away, I thought it was the perfect time to share my mint julep recipe with you. There are many variations on the mint julep recipe. Traditionalists generally vary between using simple syrup, powdered sugar, or even granulated sugar. And lately restaurants have been mixing it up even more adding things like peach puree. I’ve tried all sorts of variations and have found simple syrup to be the best.

To start, you need to start with a good bourbon. Because the main and essential ingredient in a mint julep is the bourbon you want to use a bourbon with a taste you really like. Last weekend we made ours with Woodford Reserve. I have to be honest, at our Derby party we use Evan Williams – when you’re serving so many people it just makes the most sense.

To get ready for the party, and the onslaught of thirsty attendees, we make a huge batch of simple syrup a couple days before. To make simple syrup you just boil equal parts sugar and water until the sugar is dissolved. [TIP: Because the bar gets busy at our party and to save time, I infuse the simple syrup with mint rather than having to muddle mind in every single mint julep made at the party. Simply add a healthy dose of mint leaves to our warm simple syrup mixture and let steep until the syrup has cooled, then discard the mint leaves.] Then let the simple syrup cool on the kitchen counter and then transfer it to a container to refrigerate until party day.

The julep glass is another important component! That could be a Kentucky Derby glass like the one pictured below  (this year’s glasses arrived a couple days ago to our house), or you could use a traditional silver Julep Cup.

Bourbon Bill’s Mint Julep Recipe

  1. Fill a glass full with crushed ice (If you haven’t infused your simple syrup with mint you need to muddle mint in your glass before putting ice in the glass)
  2. Pour in 1 ounce of simple syrup
  3. Pour in 2 ounces of bourbon
  4. Add a splash of good water & mix
  5. Garnish with a mint sprig
  6. Add 2 tall thin straws and enjoy!


Make yourself a Mint Julep and remember to bet the gray!

Limited Edition Kentucky Derby Bourbons

Kentucky Derby festivities are coming up quickly, as we are just 2 weeks away from the “most exciting 2 minutes in sports.”  It’s also the time of year when the bourbon distilleries come out with special bottles and promotions around the event.  As I previously wrote about, the 2016 Woodford Reserve commemorative Kentucky Derby bottle is on the shelves.  I got mine at Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, Ca.
This week, I got information on 2 new special bourbon bottles.  As a Makers Mark Ambassador, I got an email from Rob Samuels about a special charity bottle they will have to commemorate American Pharaoh’s Triple Crown Victory.  It is in the silks and stable colors of American Pharaoh and the Zayat Family.  I called the distillery and I was told they will cost between $75-85 depending upon your location.  If you click on their link starting May 1 you can find a location near you to purchase one.   I called Hi-Time Wine Cellars to see if they were getting the Pharaoh bottle and they thought they would but it had not been confirmed.
MM Bottle
Another new offering is from Calumet Bourbon.  They have a boxed set with a Derby glass. The glass has Calumets’ name on it.  It is different graphics than the official Kentucky Derby Mint Julep glass.  Below is a photo Caskers sent me.  May be a real collectible.  This is available from Caskers on line.  I have not seen it anywhere else.
If you type in Kentucky Derby Bourbon into google you will find lots of listings of bourbon related recipes, goods,  and decorations related to the Derby.   The link below ups for some additional bourbon drinks for your party.

Bourbon Review: Henry McKenna

Henry McKenna Single Barrel is a lesser-known bourbon and one that I haven’t had in my collection for very long. It’s an extra-aged bottled in bond single barrel bourbon. It is distilled and bottled by Heaven Hill in Bardstown, Kentucky. (Notice in the photo that Lynn’s beloved roses are in full bloom – just in time for the Kentucky Derby!)


Here is a little history from their website:

In 1837, a young man from Ireland known for his remarkable whiskey-making skills, came to America with his family’s whiskey recipe that had been passed down for generations. Young Mr. McKenna settled in Kentucky and discovered the uniquely American drink known as Bourbon. McKenna instantly took a liking to Kentucky whiskey and set out to create a better Bourbon using his family’s recipe. To ensure the highest quality, he insisted that his Bourbon age in oak barrels before bottling. From this process, highly unusual for the time, emerged a remarkably smooth Bourbon boasting a distinctive character.

This is a high proof bourbon without the normal bite you would expect. It has a wonderful aroma delivering a lot of spice and caramel. Some say mint, but I didn’t experience it (guess I should try it again tomorrow). The mint apparently comes from the yeast that Heaven Hill uses. You can really smell the oak in it as well.

I was very impressed with the first sip and it kept delivering flavor with different nuances of taste and experience. The bottle I have has a label that says, “Hand selected by the Staff of Hi Times Wine Cellars.” I am guessing you would get about the same great taste with any bottle but this one was selected by them.


If you have read a few of my posts you know I am a packaging geek. This bottle is very tastefully done. In describing the bottle, the brand says, “Commensurate with its status as a super-premium single barrel product, it features an antiqued strip stamp and a booklet neck hanger that tells the story of Henry McKenna, and explains the terms ‘single barrel’ and ‘bottled-in-bond.’  The face label also graphically emphasizes the ‘Aged 10 Years’ and ‘Since 1855’ statements, and has an area where the specific barrel number and ‘barreled on’ date for each bottle is hand-written.”

I would highly recommend you try a bottle. I was pleased first sip to last. If you haven’t been to Heaven Hill make them a stop on your hike of the Bourbon Trail and get a bottle from the source.

Aged: 10 years
Proof: 100
Color: Deep Mahogany
Price: $24.99 for 740mL at Hi-Time Wine Cellars

Book Review: The Drunken Botanist

I got a wonderful gift last weekend from my wife, Lynn. She belongs to the Assistance League of Fullerton and last weekend was their annual Alpha Chapter “Day of Authors.” One of the speakers was Amy Stewart. Amy wrote The Drunken Botanist, “the plants that create the World’s Great Drinks.” It was published in 2013 and was a New York Times Bestseller!


So why should a bourbon fan care about this book? This is a fascinating book filled with  information and fun facts about the plants that create the world’s great wine, beer, and spirits. It includes chapters on cocktail recipes, water, spices, distilling, brewing, even the the plants themselves. She covers anything you wanted to know about the botany behind drinks.


Naturally, I immediately turned to the chapter “The Birth of Bourbon.” I love the quote from James O’Rear: “Limestone in bourbon let’s you wake up the next morning feeling like a gentleman.”


Amy really covers it all. She has broken the book into 3 very creative parts.

Part I: We explore the twin alchemy processes of fermentation and distillation. From which wine, beer and spirits issue forth”

Part II: We then suffuse our creations with a wondrous assortment of Nature’s Bounty

Part III: At last we venture into the garden, where we encounter a seasonal array of botanical mixers and garnishes to be introduced to the cocktail in its final stage of preparation.

Life has been a little crazy lately (you’ve probably noticed the slowed down blog posts). I’m looking forward to taking some time to really dive into this book. I leave you with the New York Times review. It perfectly sums it up!

Some Plants Deserve a Toast
By: Steven Kurutz

Amy Stewart has a way of making gardening seem exciting, even a little dangerous, as she did with “Wicked Plants,” her best-selling book about poisonous and invasive vegetation. In “The Drunken Botanist” (Algonquin, $19.95), her latest, Ms. Stewart is once again out to show the sexier side of the garden, this time linking plants to alcoholic spirits.

Horticulture is ever-present in grape wine and rye whiskey, of course, while tequila is made of agave, and a twist of lime can garnish a martini. Such basics are entertainingly covered in the book. But Ms. Stewart, a founder of the blog Garden Rant, is most fun when serving up esoterica. During President Nixon’s 1972 trip to China, she writes, he was warned by Alexander Haig not to drink moutai, a highly alcoholic beverage made from sorghum. Nixon ignored the advice and “matched his host drink for drink.” The book is full of such tidbits.

Plants aren’t limited to the realm of garden clubs and botanists, the author reminds us; they can get out and party on a Saturday night. Ms. Stewart writes of being in a liquor store with a friend and gesturing wildly at the shelves. “This is horticulture!” she said. “In all of these bottles.”


My Bourbon Mecca

You might be a fan of a special store, techies and my kids love the Apple Store. My wife, a big fan of Nordstrom. Me – I love to shop for bourbons. My go-to store is Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, California. I love to go there and browse for that new release from a favorite distillery, or just to look for something I’ve have always wanted to try. I love to look at the selection, packaging and graphics.


Hi-Time Wine Cellars is my bourbon store of choice because whatever I am looking for they have. The same is true for most any liquor and wine. They have it, and if they don’t they’ll get it for their customers.  I was there a couple days ago to pick up my 2016 Woodford Reserve Kentucky Derby Bottle (read my write up about its release here).


I was wandering around the store looking at all the bourbon, scotch, and whiskey (whisky if you are an import) on the shelves. There is so much rich history and life in those bottles. Many began their journey 15, 20, 23, even 30 or more years ago.

While there I spoke with Keith Hanson their liquor buyer. His knowledge of the industry and their inventory will blow you away. On another occasion I spoke with Holden, who was helping someone get a 20-year-old bottle of Pappy out of the case. Both Keith and Holden are great to work with.  In California we have a 3 tier system. The stores have to buy from a liquor distributor, who has bought the product directly from the distillery. Young’s Market is one of the distributors Hi-Time deals with for many of the brands they carry.

Now back to the Pappy. Not only do they carry new bottles but they do purchase bottles from collectors for resale. I took a few pictures but unfortunately through the case they are not the best. If you need that special bottle for a client or best friend, this is your place (for a price).


I would be remiss if I didn’t mention they have an equally awesome selection of Champagne. A few years ago Lynn and I stayed at a little Maison in Ludes, France called PloyezJacquemart. While there we had the opportunity to try their champagne and fell in love with it.  Hi-Time carries the champagne and they are one of the few in the US who have it, so we are also regular visitors to restock on this special champagne.

Ever since getting more into bourbon, and bourbon collecting, Hi-Time has become my go-to place (my bourbon mecca). For those not located in Southern California, I highly suggest finding your go-to bourbon place. While this is hard for people living in places with state controlled liquor stores, there still is definitely a utility to developing a relationship with your local state-run store. The managers, just like at a store like Hi-Time, will let you know when new products are coming in or there is something you shouldn’t pass up!