The 144th Kentucky Derby is coming May 5, which means it's time for racing, wagering, food and amazing mint juleps. Each year, approximately 127,000 mint juleps are served on Friday and Saturday during Kentucky Derby weekend at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. In addition, the track goes through roughly 2,250 pounds of mint and 475,000 pounds of ice during the festivities.
To make a great mint julep for your Derby Day party, we spoke with Chef David Danielson, the executive chef at Churchill Downs, to get his recipe and a quick tip.
According to Danielson, don't be afraid to adjust the bourbon to fit your personal preferences. "I prefer a higher proof bourbon when making a mint julep," he says. "My favorite bourbon to use is Old Forrester 1920 Prohibition Style because it’s 115 proof. Once it mixes with the mint, simple syrup and ice, it still lets you get plenty of bourbon character in each sip."
Danielson knows a few things about bourbon, he co-authored The Bourbon Country Cookbook. The book "features some great recipes that pair well with juleps," he says, "and help bring a taste of Bourbon Country into your home, like Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Bourbon Glaze and Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie."
To enjoy the Derby Day drinking experience from the comfort of your own home, here’s an easy recipe from the book, along with a some julep history to dazzle your party-goers.
Makes: 1 cocktail
The julep is a classic example of a cocktail with history. It is thought to have been created on a horse farm in the late 1700s. Farmwork was very laborious and took a toll on the body. There were no over-the-counter pain relievers at the corner drugstore back then, but there was a lot of whiskey. The whiskeys at that time didn’t taste as good as they do today. So, with the help of a little sugar and mint, the “medicine” went down easier. The muscles would relax and it was then time to get back to work. They called this remedy a “Morning Bracer.” At the end of the day, one would also need an “Evening Bracer.” The cocktail then went on to become a refined drink of the South, now synonymous with the first Saturday in May and the running of the Kentucky Derby.
Our julep uses a mint simple syrup, which is quicker than muddling and makes the drink easy to make for several people at once. We use Woodford Reserve bourbon, the official bourbon of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby. You can adjust the sweetness by adding more or less simple syrup.
1 ounce Mint Simple Syrup
2 ounces Woodford Reserve bourbon (or personal bourbon of your choice)
1 mint sprig, for garnish
Fill a tall glass or julep cup with crushed ice. Add the syrup and then the bourbon. Top with more crushed ice, add a sipping straw, garnish with the mint, and serve.
Of course, we couldn't let Danielson get away without asking for one more tip... like who we should bet on during the race. "I wish I knew the answer to this myself! When I’m betting, I try to find a few perfecta combinations that I like and think will pay well if they hit. But one thing I have come to realize is that in the Derby, anything can happen."