Mastering The Mint Julep, Derby Style

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julep2Photo: Courtesy of Maison Premiere.
Tomorrow marks the start of the Kentucky Derby; that delightful day of wide-brimmed hats, the most exciting two minutes in sports (in our opinion), and our favorite drink of the season, the mint julep. To kick the party off, we chatted up Maxwell Britten, bar director of Williamsburg cocktail den Maison Premiere, which hosts an annual Derby party complete with raspberry twists on the classic julep that sound so amazing they have us chomping at the bit for a sip. Here, right from the horse's mouth, is everything you need to know to make them yourself.

What’s the appeal of the mint julep?
"It's one of the most identifiable, classic, American cocktails. People love the presentation and overall experience — you’re holding a nice, frosted cup and putting your nose in a refreshing bouquet of mint. What’s not to like?"

And, you get to rock insane hats on Derby day.
"It’s an occasion to enjoy life and celebrate the season. I mean, the race really only lasts a couple of minutes, but you can spend the whole day dressed up, hanging out, and partying."

What are the essential ingredients of a julep?
"Crushed ice is really important — wrap ice cubes in a clean cloth and beat it with a hammer or muddler. Fresh mint, of course. Get a good bourbon; I like Four Roses Yellow Label the best. And, mix up some nice simple syrup."

Simple syrup is key. Is it simple to make?
"Use two parts sugar to one part water. Lightly heat the water in the pot, then slowly whisk in sugar until fully dissolved. Set aside until room temperature and put it in a lidded container in the fridge. It'll last for a long time."

Click through for Maxwell's tips on how to make this at home...
julep1Photo: Courtesy of Maison Premiere.
So how do we make this on our own?
"First, take mint leaves and rub them inside the metal cup to extract the oil, then take the leaves out, add 1/2 ounce simple syrup, 2 ounces Four Roses Yellow Label bourbon, and crushed ice. Give it a few good stirs, then add more crushed ice — really pack it in there, you want the ice to be almost overflowing."

Like a snow cone. Why take the mint leaves out?
"That way you get the nose of the mint, but the leaves won’t get stuck in the straw."

I hate when that happens! So, what if you don’t have any metal cups? Can you use another type of glass?
"The only thing that’s appropriate is a metal cup."

Ok then. Where can we snag some?
"Cocktailkingdom.com sells really nice ones, the kinds that bars use. Crate & Barrel, too. If you’re on a budget, go to a restaurant supply store and buy a few metal shaker sets and use the shorter half of the shaker as the cup."

What if you want to shake things up a bit?
"Use 1.5 ounces bourbon, .75 ounces raspberry syrup, and .5 ounces Amontillado Sherry. We call this a Conquistador."

So fancy. Any other tips?
"Whichever kind of julep you make, you need to finish if off with a mint bouquet on top — almost like a small bush."

I love a decorative accessory. Mint juleps taste so good, I don’t want to only drink them in warm weather. Is it weird to down them year-round?
"It’s definitely fine; they’re a routine part of the daily alcohol consumption of your average southern citizen. They’re generally consumed during hot days, but there are people who drink them any time for medicinal purposes."

I like the sound of that. Think it works?
"I mean, it sure makes you feel good for a little bit."

If a mint julep were a person, who would it be?
"Mark Twain: He’s a classic American, an icon of the southern lifestyle."

I’d chat him up at a party. Do you ever bet on the horses?
"I’m not much of a betting man."

I bet you drink mint juleps, though.
"Of course, absolutely."