Four-ingredient Classic Mint Juleps are a traditional Southern favorite.
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Kentucky Derby is celebrated the first Saturday in May with visitors from around the world gathering at the race track and all over Louisville. As "My Old Kentucky Home" plays before the race, julep cups are raised high, bringing tears to many eyes. To Kentuckians, a mint julep is more than a drink; it's a cup of emotion, full of tradition.
The classic version is served in silver julep cups. These are filled to the rim with a refreshing concoction of the finest bourbon, simple syrup, fresh mint, and crushed ice. "Neophytes taking their first sips should know this is a bourbon cocktail that's very traditional, so it will be robust," says Chris Morris, master distiller in training for Brown-Forman Corporation.
This drink is best made individually "to taste" using only the freshest ingredients. While Kentucky Colonel mint is commonly used, other varieties work well too. The ingredients remain constant, but opinions are as varied as the colors of jockeys' silks as to the proper way to make them. Many crush the mint and sugar together (referred to as muddling), while others insist that the mint should be smelled not tasted.
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Always pre-chill julep cups or glass tumblers before filling with crushed ice. This prevents the ice from melting too quickly. Julian P. Van Winkle, III, president of Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, prefers his ice in small chunks.
"Wrap ice cubes in a thick towel or cloth bag, and hammer away until you have small chunks," says Julian.
Before tasting, insert a cocktail straw or coffee stirrer near the mint sprig. Inhale a deep breath, and slowly sip until someone says, "May I fix you another mint julep?"