If you can’t get to Louisville, Kentucky, for the annual star attraction of the horse-racing set, the Kentucky Derby, you can celebrate at home with a cheery Mint Julep.

Toasting the Kentucky Derby from Home

Kentucky Derby
Bourbon for an improved classic mint julep

My first time in Kentucky, I ate at a restaurant with absolutely no vegetarian choices – even the salad had jello, which is a meat product, so I had a roll. But that was OK, I was going to at least enjoy a mint julep.

Except – I was in a dry county. This is an alien concept to a New Yorker – a place without booze? So I learned how to make my own.

Tip one

The key to a great mint julep is the simple syrup. Many recipes tell you to mix sugar and water with the requisite mint and bourbon, but the sugar needs to be dissolved in the water first. You need heat to do this, so you have to make a simple syrup.

Tip two

The second key to the drink is making it less sweet. If you use the usual ratio of one part sugar to one part water you get a cloyingly sweet syrup that makes your drink taste like a child’s drink. Plus that much sugar isn’t good for your waist OR your teeth. I make a syrup with 1 cup of water and half a cup of sugar. So good.

Tip three

You don’t need to use the best quality bourbon here. Don’t get the cheapest, either, but since you aren’t drinking it straight, middle of the road is fine

Better Mint Julep to Celebrate the Kentucky Derby

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 ounces bourbon
  • 6 fresh mint leaves
  • 2 sprigs of mint
  • 2 large ice cubes

Put water and sugar in a small pan and heat until small bubbles form. Stir to make sure all the sugar is dissolved, crush the mint leaves into the syrup and let steep until cool.

Put an ice cube in each of two glasses, pour half of bourbon in each and one tablespoon of the syrup. Garnish with mint sprig and serve.

If you make extra simple syrup, you can squeeze in some lemon juice, add more mint, and serve to the kids.