Today is Kentucky Derby Day for all of us Southerners living in the Pacific Northwest. Time to trade in your woolly cap for a sun bonnet. I know it’s hard, just looking at how our mint is struggling to make a good showing for today after our long cold spring. Luckily, there is just enough to mix up a couple of mint juleps, sit back, take it easy and watch the race.
Once again, Charlie is in charge of mixing. He has his method down after years of impressing me by making a mint julep that could put the best Southern bartender to shame.
Go to the garden and pick a big handful of mint. If you don’t have any, Full Circle Farm had some last week at the Farmers Market. According to Charlie, you can never use too much mint, the more, the better. Rinse the mint and strip the leaves from the stems. Discard the stems.
Place the mint in a container — a cocktail shaker or martini pitcher works well — with 1 teaspoon of superfine sugar for each drink. Crush the mint and sugar with a muddler. Using the moisture in the leaves combined with the sugar, you’ll end up with a paste that looks similar to pesto. Add 1/2 cup of cold water (per drink) to the muddled mint.
Meanwhile, crush the ice. This is somewhere between cracked ice and the slush you get using a blender. Charlie has an old hand ice crusher inherited from his grandfather that makes the perfect amount of crush. You can find one on Ebay or sometimes in antique stores. In a pinch, you can always put ice in a sturdy bag and go at it with a hammer. That can really get the party going.
Fill your silver cup — if you are being true to the tradition, or a tumbler if you’re not — with crushed ice. Pour 2 ounces of bourbon over the ice. Jim Beam or Rebel Yell are both Kentucky bourbons, appropriate for Derby Day. Using a strainer, pour the muddled mint-sugar-water over the ice. Garnish with a sprig of mint. In the South, you start early in the day before the race, so you can be in a great mood by the time your favorite horse crosses the finish line.