The Mint Julep’s Origins

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Photo from Saveur

The Mint Julep has been the traditional beverage of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby for nearly a century. It is made from a mixture of bourbon, water, powdered sugar, and mint. According to Churchill Downs, they serve over 120,000 for the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby, which requires 10,000 bottles of bourbon, 1,000 pounds of mint, and 60,000 pounds of ice!

Chris Morris from Woodford Reserve Bourbon says “Centuries ago, there was an Arabic drink called julab, made with water and rose petals. The beverage had a delicate and refreshing scent that people thought would instantly enhance the quality of their lives.” When the julab was introduced to the Mediterranean region, the native population replaced the rose petals with mint, a plant indigenous to the area. The mint julep, as it was now called, grew in popularity throughout Europe.”

Why the Mint Julep? The drink’s ties to the Kentucky Derby can be traced back to a struggling bourbon industry during the 1930’s, but it did not start out as a festive drink. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the drink was originally given to prevent diseases and provide pain relief from body aches. Other stories I have read said they were served for breakfast. It was the spirited equivalent of coffee. What a way to start the day!

The Julep is said to have its origins in Virginia. Much of Kentucky’s heritage and traditions began when it was still part of Virginia. They would have been made with rum or brandy and served in a silver cup. Having sterling silver cups, ice, and the servants to make the drink, was a sign of wealth. As the drink moved to Kentucky they started using bourbon.

Henry Clay, the famous Kentucky United States Congressman, Senator, and Secretary of State in the early 1800’s introduced the drink in Washington, D.C. at the famous Willard Hotel.

In 1938, it was named the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. According to Cocktail Times, Churchill Downs served the drink in a souvenir cup and charged 75 cents per drink. The Derby glasses went through several phases of glass, aluminum, Bakelite, and back to glass in the late 40’s. A complete collection of the glasses is quite valuable.

Since the 1940’s the track has commissioned a new design for the Mint Julep Glass every year. The popularity of the Mint Julep, synonymous with the Kentucky Derby, encouraged the other Triple Crown races to create their own drinks. Today, many sporting and special events have their own special cocktail or drink. We have all heard the term “The official drink of….” To think it all started very innocently with Kentuckians enjoying their favorite beverage on the first Saturday in May in the early 1900’s.

You can check out my Mint Julep recipe here!

 

 

 

 

How do you like your bourbon?

These days there are a lot of options when it comes to chilling your bourbon (and drinks in general). Today we’ll walk you through some of the different options like how to order your bourbon and the many different styles of ice cubes.

Neat, straight up, and on the rocks are still the standards. Neat means without ice. Typically a bartender would serve it in an old fashioned glass. Neat is also how most distilleries on the Bourbon Trail serve their bourbon for tasting. It definitely takes some getting used to if you’re like me and like your bourbon chilled.

Straight up means chilled but without ice in it. This is similar to how a martini is served. This is becoming trendier for drinks beyond martinis as bartenders get increasingly creative with their drink list. It’s also a very classic way of serving drinks.

And then there is on the rocks, which is what we are all most used to when it comes to sipping bourbon. Just some ice with bourbon poured over it.

Now, these days there are a ton of ice options. There’s your old standby of standard ice out of the refrigerator or ice maker. I tend to prefer this if I’m mixing my bourbon. The ice melts quickly, especially on a hot day, which waters down the bourbon.

So when I’m sipping bourbon I generally use a large ice cube from molds that I’ve purchased from Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table. There are a ton of ice mold options out there. These are very common in restaurants now too. Some restaurants I’ve visited have even installed ice makers that make larger ice cubes (there’s a Japanese ice maker that makes ice cubes that are larger than the normal squares an ice machine makes but smaller than the large square mold ice cubes).

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You can purchase ice molds in all sorts of shapes and sizes. I have a bunch of large square molds, and some round ice molds made by Tovolo – they seem to make the best ones (found in stores all over the place). I even have a tray to make Purdue P ice cubes!

For those who want chilled bourbon with no added water whatsoever there are whiskey stones. Whiskey stones are just that, small pieces of stone made in all sorts of shapes, but usually small squares. Most of them are made from Granite. Granite is very hard and dense. It doesn’t absorb liquid and also retains temperature very well. There are also metal stones with a coolant inside which freezes. This is a way to chill your bourbon without watering it down at all. Admittedly I don’t use my whiskey stones very often. I prefer the large ice cube option – chills the bourbon and dilutes just a bit as you get to the end of the glass.

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If you read the tasting notes of many of the bourbons being released today they suggest you serve the bourbon slightly chilled. How you achieve that is really up to personal preference! Right now, I think by a fire is the best way!

Bar Review: Dry 85 (Annapolis, Maryland)

My family traveled to Annapolis and Baltimore for last weekend’s Army Navy Game. What a weekend! It was great having our family back together. We always love spending time in “Naptown.” After wandering through shops downtown and along Main Street, we decided to stop by Dry 85 for a drink before dinner. (If you’re seeing a trend, Lynn and I always try to experience a Bourbon/Whiskey establishment when we visit a town.)

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Dry 85 is, “A modern industrial take on a Prohibition-era speakeasy. The back alley garage where someone today would sneak a bourbon, beer or gourmet comfort food meal.” Dry 85 opened in January 2014. It has a cozy atmosphere with a good selection of bourbon and whiskey.

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They have a nice selection of craft cocktails. Combine that with the friendly wait staff and fun atmosphere of Main Street in Annapolis and you have an instant winner. We really enjoyed our visit.

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We had 6 different combinations of drinks. I tried something I normally wouldn’t – a Buffalo Trace Sugar Plum. I guess the Christmas season and thoughts of the Nutcracker that Friday got the best of me. BUT for a guy who drinks his bourbon neat it was a very refreshing drink. The Sugar Plum is made with Buffalo Trace Bourbon, House-made Plum Puree, and Freshly Squeezed Lemon it. My kids did laugh though because it was served up and was bright pink. My daughter and son-in-law had their soon to be famous Old Fashioned made with smoked maple syrup and said it was done to perfection. It looked great. My son and his wife both had drinks with fig (blanking on the name of them) which were very different and not the biggest crowd pleasers, but props to them for going out on a limb and trying something different. Lynn had a Manhattan, which was perfectly made.

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All in all, we would definitely recommend Dry 85. We didn’t eat there but the food looked good. Between their extensive whiskey selection and unique craft cocktails, it’s a great place to meet up with friends, stop in for a quick drink, or visit after dinner for a relaxing drink.

If you haven’t been to Annapolis go, especially in December when the whole town is decorated with garland over all the shops and restaurants, wreaths on all the doors, and the big tree by the bay. I’ll be back later with a visitors guide to Annapolis! We have been too many times to count and always find new things to do each visit.

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(Lynn in front of Blackwall Hitch – another good restaurant in Annapolis)

Bar Review: Yard House – a “mile” of enjoyment

Lynn and I love to go to Yard House in Brea, CA for their happy hour cocktails, appetizers, or dinner. After we walk across the street to see a movie. Yard House is a wonderful place to enjoy your normal spirit, a craft cocktail or one of their over 125 beers on tap! They have  a great assortment of everything from beer and wine, to spirits and cocktails. They also serve fun and tasty appetizers and main courses. We have never had a bad meal there and I should own stock in the Brea location we go so often. To top it all that off there are big screen TV’s everywhere to watch sports, and they have a great enclosed patio when you want to sit outside.

Back to Happy Hour. Their happy hour is Monday to Friday from 3:00-6:00 PM and they have a “Late Night Happy Hour” from 10:00 PM – Close. Their happy hour has domestic pints and well drinks for $1.00 off. Import pints, wine, craft cocktails, and call spirits are $2.00 off. Martini’s $3.00 off and half yards $4.00 off. There are 26 different appetizers that are discounted and if I tried to list the ones we like most, I would list most of them. You can’t miss with the chicken lettuce wraps, pizza’s, Poke Stack, Moo Shu egg rolls, and the onion ring tower to name a few. They have some huge booths that hold 8-10 so take some friends and make it a party.

If happy hour is too early for your schedule, make a night of it with dinner and some of their terrific cocktails, wine, or beer. Their entrees are as good as their appetizers. They have a wide variety of options including salads, pizzas, seafood, steaks, burgers, street tacos, and the list goes on and on. My favorites are the chicken enchilada stack, Southern fried chicken breast, mac+cheese2. We always start with cocktails. My favorite is an solid “Woodford Reserve Old Fashioned,” and Lynn usually gets an “Old 43” which is made with Woodford Reserve, Licor 43, Citrus Agave, and Orange Bitters.

I like to drink a Kronenbourg 1664 with my dinner. We drank Kronenbourg 1664 in St. Martin on an anniversary trip 30 years ago and I haven’t seen it anywhere else on tap in Southern California.

Yes, this was an unpaid advertisement but when you like a place this much you have to share it with friends, family and blog followers!

Bourbon Recipe: Bourbon Slush for a Bourbon Blast

Another favorite drink at our annual Kentucky Derby party, besides mint juleps, is Bourbon Slush. It’s great for a large gathering when you need to make drinks for a crowd and this recipe is a real crowd pleaser. Lynn got the recipe out of Porch Parties, a really great book full of cocktail recipes to be enjoyed outdoors by Denise Gee (she also has a Southern Cocktails book that I want to check out).

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The beauty of this recipe is that it can be made a day, a week, or a month in advance. Once made you thaw it in a punch bowl and it makes slush on its own. You can add crushed ice if you wish to keep it slushy.

Lynn made it for our Derby Party a few years ago. She had some left in the freezer that we thawed later for another party in the summer and it was wonderful and refreshing. It very simple!

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Bourbon Slush Recipe

Ingredients:
6 Cups of water
2 Cups Bourbon
One 6-Ounce Container Frozen Orange Juice Concentrate, Thawed
One 12-Ounce Container Frozen Lemon Juice Concentrate, Thawed
Strong Tea (Recipe below)
Garnish with Mint Sprigs or Lemon Slices (Optional)

Directions:
Combine the water, tea, bourbon, sugar, orange, and lemon juice concentrate in a large container or bowl and mix until sugar dissolves. Pour into two gallon-size freezer bags. Freeze until an hour before serving, Place the frozen punch in a large bowl and let thaw breaking up every 15 minutes, When punch is melted, add more ice or water as desired. Serve in punch cups. Garnish, if desired.

Strong Tea:
2 Cups of water
1 family-size or 4 regular tea bags

Boil the water. Add the tea bag(s) and let steep until cool. Discard the tea bags and set aside.

This “Slush” will have everyone talking and enjoying their day at the races, or a summer afternoon on your porch. It’s an easy way to serve many while enjoying your party.

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!

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