The Kentucky Derby is Saturday, which means fancy hats and, most importantly, mint juleps. Yes, it’s the one day a year when drinking mass quantities of bourbon during the day is not considered a sign of a debilitating addiction to the brownest of the brown liquors.
The story has it that the mint julep was invented in Washington at the Willard hotel, and who are we to argue with stories. Here, cribbed from the Washingtonian in 2005, is Henry Clay’s Kentucky-Style Mint Julep recipe, as interpreted by Jim Hewes, the bartender at the Willard’s Round Robin Bar.
2 ounces Maker’s Mark bourbon (or another premium Kentucky bourbon)
2 ounces San Pellegrino sparkling water
8-10 fresh mint leaves, plus a sprig of mint for garnish (Hewes uses red-stem mint)
2 cups crushed ice (dry, not slushy)
1 teaspoon granulated sugar plus a bit more to taste
1 thin strip lemon peel
1 julep cup (crystal or silver), frosted in the freezer
Add one teaspoon of sugar, the mint leaves, one ounce bourbon, and one ounce sparkling water to the julep cup. Using the heel of a butter knife, muddle for about a minute until it forms a tea. Add a half cup of crushed ice and muddle some more. Add the rest of the ice, keeping it tightly packed. Pour in the rest of the bourbon and sparkling water. Garnish with a sprig of mint and top with the lemon peel and a dusting of sugar. Wedge the straw just behind the mint sprig so when you lean in for a sip, you get a peppery whiff.