Triple Crown season began this weekend with Saturday’s 135th run of the Kentucky Derby. I love Derby Day—the horses, the hats, the pomp and circumstance. The fact that legends are made and careers ruined within a two-minute window.
But mostly I love the mint juleps. Bunches of fresh mint, jiggers of bourbon, some sugar, some ice and just a splash of water. Drinking a mint julep is an exercise in surrender. More than any other drink, this one takes prisoners. And willingly they go.
Though I’ve always loved the Derby—having gone through the requisite suburban girl horsey phase in my youth, I came to juleps late. Only in the last five years. The boyfriend of that era had a classic cocktail mixing guide. As the Derby approached that year, it occurred to us to make mint juleps. Eagerly, we gathered the ingredients in the morning and waited for the race coverage to begin.
To this day, I’m amazed we saw the race at all. Hours later, we woke up with little recollection of what had happened. The following year, we gladly repeated the experience. Step-by-step all over again.
Like so many traditional Southern recipes, the mint julep is heady, rich and sweet. Think butter-rich biscuits and honey. Think warm pecan pie. Now make it liquid. Bam! You won’t know what hit you either. But you’ll start planning when you can have your next one.
Recipes abound but I narrow the list to these two:
The first gives you the basics. I encourage you to experiment with your choice of bourbon. Maker’s Mark has always been a favorite, but lately, I’ve been drawn to Knob Creek. The second serves as a necessary shout-out as it is from the race’s official site. Either way, you’ll be in good hands.
There’s no shortage of irony in employing the word “surrender” while advocating the consumption of a favorite cocktail, I know. And perhaps it's even reckless to encourage a lost weekend. But isn't everything a matter of time and place? There are occasions that invite giving up and giving in. Allowing something else to handle the reins. Mint juleps—in the Spring, on a weekend—invite this opportunity. This isn’t a drink that you sip daintily or chug indiscriminately. You take it in and then it takes over. Setting aside time. Ignoring responsibility. Letting the drink lead.