A mint julep, with reverence

One of the reasons I have stayed with dog shows for over 40 years is that they represent a kind of civilized lifestyle that I have always admired, one that respects tradition, while living life to the fullest. Most dog people have varied interests and are experts at combining celebrations with those interests. Many of our dog folk also own horses, which provides me an opportunity to segue into two of my favorite interests: cooking & entertaining.

Today is the first Saturday in May. Here in the South, ladies are donning their hats and men are arguing over the proper way to make a mint julep. It is the day of the running of the Kentucky Derby, the oldest continuously running sporting event in America. I’m not quite sure when they first started serving mint juleps at the Derby, but today the “official recipe” has been usurped by corporate America and the Early Times Distillery Company. While the official recipe calls for using a simple syrup infused with mint, I assure you that such an approach is far from the original. Here’s how I make a mint julep, with reverence.



  • • 6 spearmint leaves
  • • 1 tsp fine sugar
  • • cracked ice
  • • 3 oz (2 jiggers) Wild Turkey 101 bourbon


  • • First, select your glass, or tin. I’m not sure why the silver tumbler is so sought after. I suspect that glass was too fragile to take out to a sporting event, but since most of us will be watching from the comfort of our family rooms, glass is perfectly acceptable. Personally, I like to be able to admire my drink through the glass. The size of the glass does matter. I prefer an 8-ounce highball class. Most prefer a larger glass, but I will leave the debate over giant cocktails for a later post. Whether silver or glass, start with a dry glass.
  • • Add mint, then sugar, & bruise the leaves a bit with a bar spoon or muddler.  Now, here’s our first point of debate. Most purists agree that the mint should not be macerated, i.e., worked into a paste, but all will agree that the leaves must be bruised sufficiently to release the spearmint oils. I subscribe to the theory that you must be able to look cool while you prepare the drink.  Therefore I say taunt the mint, but don’t torment it.
  • • Fill the glass with cracked ice.  I read one recipe that insisted the ice should be like that used for a snow cone.  That, again, smacks of excess. I happily have a fridge that produces perfectly cracked ice.  You can always take ice cubes and pulse them a couple of times in the blender, just don’t let anyone see you do it.
  • • Add the bourbon and stir. The choice of bourbon is an intensely personal affair. I like my Wild Turkey 101, but I will admit there are other acceptable spirits.  However, I would advise against one that already has an overly sweet taste. Whatever bourbon you use, stir until the glass frosts.
  • • Garnish with mint and serve. A straw is optional, but I prefer to get my nose down into the drink to appreciate the aroma.

So have yourself a mint julep and watch the race…after which you can figure out what to have for your Cinco de Mayo dinner. It’s too late for my chile verde, but you can have one of my margaritas. And that’s today’s Back Story.