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The Kentucky Derby is this Saturday, May 6. If you’ve ever been to the races, you know there are a few necessities: fancy clothes, big hats, and of course, Mint Juleps.
The roots of the Mint Julep go back to an Arabic drink called “julab” made with rose petals and water. In the Mediterranean, mint eventually replaced rose petals, and the Mint Julep was born. In 1803 the drink was described as a “dram of spirituous liquor that has mint in it, taken by Virginians in the morning.” So, you could actually call it one of the original brunch beverages. The refreshing and boozy libation became the official drink of the Kentucky Derby in 1983. For more detailed history on the beverage, check out this article from Town & Country.
You can find a basic Mint Julep recipe just about anywhere: muddle fresh mint with sugar or simple syrup, add crushed ice and bourbon, plus a splash of club soda if desired and you’ve got yourself a classic cocktail. Traditional silver cup is optional.
This year on Derby Day I’ll be mixing up two twists on the traditional beverage: a Strawberry Basil Mint Julep and a Ginger Mint Julep. Each starts with an easy-to-whip up strawberry syrup in place of sugar. The strawberry syrups can also be drizzled on top of waffles or pancakes, used in strawberry milkshakes, mixed with sparkling wine for a summery take on a mimosa… the possibilities are endless. Here are the recipes:
Traditional Strawberry Syrup
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
2 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced in half
Combine sugar and water in a saucepan. Heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Add strawberries, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly, until mixture thickens into a syrup-like consistency. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Once cooled, add to a food processor or blender and mix until combined. Cover and store in the fridge for up to a week.
Ginger Strawberry Syrup Variation
Use same ingredients and recipe as above, but add 1/4 cup crystallized ginger and 1 Tablespoon ground ginger with strawberries.
You can make the syrup a few days before your party. Just try not to add it to everything between when you make it and your event so you actually have some left for the cocktails. Trust me, once you taste it you’ll start finding all sorts of ways to enjoy it.
Mint Julep Ice
You might have noticed that a traditional Mint Julep recipe features crushed ice. Unless you have one of those fancy fridges that whips up crushed ice for you, this could present a problem. I took another twist on tradition and decided to use an Ice Shaver, making my Julep into a slushie. I scored my Rival Blizzard Ice Shaver for just $19.88 from Wal-Mart. I have already also used it for snow-cone gin and tonics and boozy snow cones. I have a feeling this will come in handy all summer long.
Mint Julep Recipes
I know, I know, get to the recipes! Okay, here you go. While the ingredients for these recipes are fairly similar, the end results have very different nuances. The Strawberry Basil Mint Julep is bright and very fresh tasting. The Strawberry Ginger Mint Julep is a little darker and sweeter with subtle hints of spice.
Last note: the bourbon. I tested my juleps with several varieties and ended up choosing Jim Beam. You don’t want to use anything too high end since you’re going to be adding a lot of flavor, but you also don’t want to go so cheap that any friends who drink one too many will be cursing your name on May 7.
Strawberry Basil Mint Julep
About 10 fresh mint leaves
About 5 fresh basil leaves
1.5 Tbps. Strawberry Syrup (see recipe above)
2 oz. bourbon
Either tear or slice mint and basil leaves until they are finely shredded. Add to a mint julep or other glass of your choice. Squeeze lemon quarter into glass and muddle leaves with lemon to release juices (a friend of mine suggested muddling fresh herbs in lemon juice instead of with sugar to keep the flavors fresh and it really does make a difference!). Add strawberry syrup and basil. Stir to combine. Place glass under ice shaver and fill glass with ice. Add a straw and/or small spoon, stir a bit and serve. Mixture should be slushy, not so icy that it is undrinkable.
Strawberry Ginger Mint Julep
About 10 fresh mint leaves
1.5 Tbps. Strawberry Ginger Syrup (see recipe above)
2 oz. bourbon
A pinch of ground ginger or splash of ginger beer, both optional
Either tear or slice mint leaves until they are finely shredded. Add to a mint julep or other glass of your choice. Squeeze lemon quarter into glass and muddle leaves with lemon to release juices (a friend of mine suggested muddling fresh herbs in lemon juice instead of with sugar to keep the flavors fresh and it really does make a difference!). Add strawberry ginger syrup, bourbon, and ground ginger if desired. Stir to combine. Place glass under ice shaver and fill glass with ice. Add a straw and/or small spoon, stir a bit and serve. For friends who like sweeter drinks, add a splash of ginger beer. Mixture should be slushy, not so icy that it is undrinkable.
You might have noticed that my Juleps are not served in traditional silver glasses. Since I was taking a new spin on the drinks, I also decided a new spin on the glasses was necessary. First, I picked up these Copper Mint Julep Cups with Straws. I love the copper color and matching straws.
I also snagged these double old fashioned sized bee tumblers because I loved the classic look and felt like they’d be useful long after The Derby.