We’re Going Ham With The Mint Julep

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It’s nearly Kentucky Derby time fools! Personally, I don’t give two craps. I’m the anti-hero when it comes to sports. Golf, Horse Racing, and NASCAR make me dry-heave an extra two times with, twisting my gut with extraordinary pain. I know, I know - sacrilege, right? Especially for a bartender and a dude! I couldn’t care any less about following football, basketball, hockey (extra yikes!), and baseball. My straight guy friends (they’re rare – 9/10 of my friends are hot chicks) hate on me endlessly for being “anti-sports,” a befitting description of me since my early twenties. Shockingly, many of my gay guy friends have a ton more interest in following sports than even I do. Somehow, I fake it pretty good when engaging sports fanatics with seemingly endless conversations at the bar.

The only reason I care about the Kentucky Derby, is because it’s yet another excuse to drink a classic cocktail.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely athletic. I played football – err… soccer – on some sort of organized team level from the time I was six until freshman year of college. I went to Adelphi Soccer Camp for several years. While there, I earned many juggling, penalty shot, and dribbling competitions. I’ve met Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer, and Esky Eskandarian (my heroes) in the flesh, and went to every New York Cosmos game at Giant’s stadium in the 70′s and 80′s with dear old Dad. Pops, btw, is a soccer fanatic, my coach of several years, and was a nearly professional player as young man. He sustained a broken elbow in playing in Haiti that just never healed properly. From the stories he tells me, this injury kept him out of Vietnam during the Johnson-era draft. He (and I) may not have been here otherwise.

I also (a) played tennis for years (b) was on my H.S. Cross-Country track team and baseball team Freshman year. Ever since, I’ve manged to dabble in casual soccer games and drunk football games when the opportunity has arisen. I work out regularly and stay in shape… blaa, blaa, blaa.

I simply cannot tolerate following most professional sports in any way, shape, or form. I do however, love to actually participate in most sports. I’m not a spectator type of person. The same goes for porn and strippers. I can gladly report that I’ve never been one of those dudes pissing away his money in those salty spots. I find them a big friggin’ tease. I’ve got better things to do.

I digress – again.

Anyway, for some really strange reason, Churchill Downs has pushed the Mint Julep on the masses ever since the late 1930′s. Don’t ask my why – I don’t know. So with the upcoming Derby this weekend, it’s only befitting that I get all kinds of poetic, and share my views on the Mint Julep.

The Mint Julep is a good old Southern, classic cocktail. So, it stands to reason that a good-old-boy show y’all how it’s supposed to be done (unlike the myriads of bastardizations out there). Chris McMillian, is the long-time barkeep at the Ritz-Carlton down in good ol’ “Nawlins.” He’s the embodiment of an old-school, classic bartender.

Watch the video. He’s got it down pat. Our boy Chris sure is loquacious, ain’t he? Being a New “Yawka’,” I – for one – have little patience for unnecessary gab. I’ve got shit to do. But, when you’re in the “Slow South,” I guess life slows down appropriately and you have a whole lot more time to indulge in seemingly useless bar banter. Fast-Forward to about the 4:30 mark to see him actually prepare the drink.

Basic Components:

  • 2oz quality Bourbon (I drink Old Grandad). You could ostensibly use Rye – but whatever.
  • 6 – 10 sprigs of fresh mint (throw it out of it’s wilting or brown)
  • 1/2 oz Simple Syrup (equal parts – by volume – of sugar dissolved in water)
  • Manually crushed ice

That’s it? Well, yes! But as with many other fine things in life, the devil is in the details


Firstly, you’ll need a proper Mint Julet Cup (below). What that is, is a decorative 12oz (or so) silver, stainless steel, or brass cup. It’s short and fat – unlike a Collins glass. It’s  decorative. Really, you could use any glass of similar dimensions. But, don’t do that. Doing so would take away a little somethin’ somethin’ from the presentation. And, presentation is prolly 50% of what you’re selling/drinking.

Muddle the mint first. DO NOT OVER MUDDLE. If you do, your cocktail will be bitter. This is an issue that many bartenders overlook simply because they just don’t know any better.  It’s a common mistake primarily when making Mojitos.

Add simple syrup, Bourbon, then crushed ice.

Stir mildly. Top with crushed ice to the brim.

Garnish with large and perky mint leaves.

That’s all there is too it folks. Don’t over-complicate a cocktail that doesn’t’ require over-complicating.

Important Notes:

  1. Mint is fickle. Mildly muddling – or hand-punishing – will release sweet oils (which is what you want). Pummeling and crassly crushing the leaves/stems will release chlorophyll and impart a nasty, bitter taste on your palate. Many consumers simply don’t know the difference, unfortunately. But, serve them a properly proportioned and muddled beverage, and they’ll come back to your establishment night after night. I’ve witnessed it numerous times.
  2. Stay away from mechanically crushed/shaved ice. It’s too uniform and fine. I prefer the hand-crushed method as demonstrated in the video. It’s a ton more dramatic (especially using Thor’s hammer) and you have much more control over the size of the final product.
  3. Do not use wilting or browned mint. Throw those nasty leaves out. There’s no value in using it.
  4. Allow the fully-concoction to gel for a minute or two before sipping.

Enjoy… uhh… the snooze-fest Horse Race. If you’ve had half-a-dozen Mint Juleps, and don a 3-foot wide hat, at least you can laugh pretentiously, pretend to know what the fuck is going on.


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