01 May 2010

The Kentucky Derby, Mint Juleps and Hats

Well look what's rolled around again: The Kentucky Derby!

The first Saturday in May has been called, "The fastest two minutes in sports", but I see this year's ads are calling it the "greatest two minutes in sports." Whichever, this is the 136th running of the first jewel in 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.

The Kentucky Derby is run at Churchill Downs, with its twin spires, in Louisville, KY.

There is much attendant pomp and circumstance. Ladies wear hats. The bigger and more elaborate the better. Do a google search for "Kentucky Derby Hats". You will see hats that amaze you. And it's not just the ladies who wear hats these days. So do the men. And they are all a lot of fun! If I ever attend a Derby in person, I will definitely be one of the people in hats.

The Mint Julep, a fine Southern libation, has been the signature drink of the Derby for 72 years. 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. A couple of months ago I was given a set of these charming French friendship glasses. They are what we will be using for our Mint Juleps today.

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. I made a point to buy a Kentucky Colonel mint plant at the Botanical Gardens plant sale last month.

Necessities sans ice:

At the bar with the vintage Chase muddlers and shot measure:

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: It's a good plan to put your glasses 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 5:15p CDT. Enjoy your mint juleps and may the best horse win!

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Southerncook said...

Becky, LOVE your new French friendship cups. They are gorgeous. Didn't make me a Mint Julep today BUT did watch the Derby. I LOVE a good Mint Julep as most of us Southerners do and I do have a large pot of the "Kentucky Colonel" mint and I WILL be making myself a Mint Julep soon. Had to attend a funeral today, mid-day and was so tired when I got home which is why I didn't make myself a Mint Julep today of all days.


Becky said...

Well, I guess you can be forgiven for forgoing the mint julep due to extenuating circumstances. Hope you have recovered!

Aren't the glasses just darling? I should do a post about them, explaining the history. Perhaps tomorrow. They are such a nice size. Mike and I both like drinking from them. And they are exactly the right size for mint juleps.

Would you believe that Derby Day is about the only time we drink mint juleps? At least that's about the only time we make them here at home. I wouldn't turn one down when offered elsewhere. :-)

pjpink said...

Very nice! We have mint juleps at Acacia. They used Four Roses Bourbon for their cocktail. Cheers!

Southerncook said...

Becky, We served Mint Juleps at our DD's wedding last year at the Pre-Reception Cocktail Party. They were a hit. We couldn't think of a more Southern cocktail plus her new DH is a KA and that is KA's signature drink.

I dearly LOVE Mint Juleps anytime. I think I said that. BTW, I can't wait to hear more about those charming glasses. Are they antique (you may have said that they were) and do you know where they came from???