02 May 2009

The Kentucky Derby & Mint Juleps

The first Saturday in May is when we have what's been dubbed, "The fastest two minutes in sports" - The Kentucky Derby. What started in 1875 has become one of the most famous horse races in the world, and is the first jewel of the Triple Crown.

This is a race for 3 year old thoroughbreds on a track that's 1 1/4 miles long. The winning horse is draped in a wreath made of over 500 roses. Hence another nickname of the race: The Run for the Roses. In 1980 a special song entitled Run for the Roses was written for the Derby and performed by Dan Fogelberg. It's one of my favourites and we never miss playing it on Derby Day.

Run for the Roses
Born in the valley and raised in the trees
Of Western Kentucky on wobbly knees
With mama beside you to help you along
You'll soon be a growing up strong.

All the long, lazy mornings in pastures of green
The sun on your withers, the wind in your mane
Could never prepare you for what lies ahead
The run for the roses so red --

And it's run for the roses as fast as you can
Your fate is delivered, your moment's at hand
It's the chance of a lifetime in a lifetime of chance
And it's high time you joined in the dance
It's high time you joined in the dance --

From sire to sire, it's born in the blood
The fire of a mare and the strength of a stud
It's breeding and it's training and it's something unknown
That drives you and carries you home.

And it's run for the roses as fast as you can
Your fate is delivered, your moment's at hand
It's the chance of a lifetime in a lifetime of chance
And it's high time you joined in the dance
It's high time you joined in the dance...

The Kentucky Derby is run at Churchill Downs, with its twin spires, in Louisville, KY and there is much attendant pomp and circumstance. Ladies wear hats. The bigger and more elaborate the better. Hats ~ just my kind of thing! And people drink mint juleps. Wow, do they drink mint juleps!

Mint juleps became the signature drink of the Derby back in 1938. That year there were special souvenir glasses made and the juleps sold for 75¢ each. Every year since there have been dated souvenir glasses that list the names of all the winners of the Kentucky Derby. During WWII, the glasses were made of plastic due to the shortage of glass. The souvenir glasses are collector items and some of the older ones sell for hundreds of dollars each. These days Churchill Downs sells some 80,000 mint juleps during Derby Week. That's a lot of bourbon and a lot of mint!

Traditionally mint juleps are served in a specially shaped silver cup that is held at the top and bottom. You never hold it in the centre of the glass, as you want the drink to be as cold as possible. When using the silver cups, ideally condensation will be frozen on the outside of the glass. We southerners like our ice and Derby Day marks the opening of mint julep season.

Mint Juleps are made from bourbon, mint, a little sugar, a splash of water and ice. Woodford Reserve is the official bourbon of the Derby, so that is what we are using to prepare our drinks this afternoon. And the type of mint is important. A Derby mint julep is made with spearmint (never, ever peppermint), and even a particular variety: Mentha spicata 'Kentucky Colonel'. Kentucky Colonel is a mild-flavoured spearmint. If you don't have Kentucky Colonel, you can use whatever spearmint you have on hand, but the milder varieties are better. If you don't have any of the traditional silver cups, either highball or Tom Collins glasses may be used to serve your juleps. Today we are going with Tom Collins glasses, just because I like them.

Necessities sans ice:

Mixed and ready to serve. Notice the frost on the glasses.

Mint Julep
Per drink:
2 sprigs fresh ‘Kentucky Colonel' spearmint with 6-8 leaves
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
2 cups crushed ice
2 oz. Woodford Reserve Kentucky bourbon

Muddle one sprig of the mint with the sugar in the bottom of a glass so the mint leaves are lightly bruised to release their flavour. Add 1 cup of crushed ice and pour in the bourbon and a splash of water. Add enough remaining ice to almost fill the glass and stir. Garnish with another sprig of fresh mint and serve.

Notes: When I use the silver cups, I like to put them in the freezer for at least half an hour before serving. Then pick up the cups with a clean towel, holding them by their edges, so as not to mark the frosted surface.

Today television coverage begins at 4:00p CDT on NBC and post time is approximately 5:04p CDT. Enjoy your mint juleps and may the best horse win!

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ChristopherM said...

A mint julep in a Derby glass will now cost you $9 on Derby day. In a plastic cup, it is $8. This is why people smuggle alcohol in. :)

Becky said...

No wonder people want to bring their own! 80,000 times 8.5 (split the difference between the two glasses) is $680,000ish. Pretty good profit, wouldn't you say?

Anonymous said...

Those stirrers in your glasses are absolutely beautiful, Becky. Bakelite/catalin? Drooling with envy.


David (in California)

Becky said...

Hey David, long time, no see! Thanks so much. Those are Chase stirrers. Bakelite leaves on top, little chrome balls on the bottom that are great for muddling the mint and sugar in the Tom Collins glass.