Talk Derby to Me!

When Tyler graduated from high school and made the decision to go to Bellarmine University, Diana and I were really happy (relieved may be appropriate also).  We knew that the school was going to give him a good education.  And as far as soccer was concerned, it seemed to be able to provide him an excellent platform to show his skills and get a chance to play early on.

But…we had no idea what we were really in for…

Louisville is the kind of place that can really knock you out! (Yes, that was intentional…Muhammad Ali was born there as Cassius Clay)

Great food…the Bourbon Trail…Bardstown…Mark’s Feed Store (bar-b-cue)…great and unique restaurant’s like Lynn’s Paradise Cafe…just a boatload of great memories with some great people.

One of the more lasting memories is that of Churchill Downs…home of the Kentucky Derby…the “Greatest Two Minutes in Sports”. 

Now, I must say with regret, I have not been to the Derby.  I hope to sometime, but I know how ridiculous that can be.  Not just being at the Derby, but trying to get a place to stay anywhere near L’ville during that week is next to impossible…it is easier to get an invite onto a moon shuttle. Practically the entire city shuts down from about Wednesday on…signs are posted in the windows of stores saying “Closed for the Derby”…even though the Derby isn’t until Saturday!

My first image of Churchill Downs came in Tyler’s freshman year…a bunch of us visited on a Saturday.  It was truly amazing…the twin spires that set Churchill Downs apart seemed to rise up into the clouds as a monument to something sacred.  Just the sight of them made me think I was hearing the thunder of the hoof-beats of those in the Run for the Roses.  Cool.  It is like visiting Augusta, home of The Masters.  Or perhaps Fenway Park and Wrigley Field (okay, even tho’ I am not a fan of either team that plays their home games at these cathedrals to baseball, I do admire the places.)  We walked in, toured the museum, went into the stands, and just sighed as if we had climbed atop a pinnacle of sports.  While I was there, of course, I had to taste a traditional Mint Julep…and fire up a nice cigar.

Another great memory from Louisville is the Soccer Team’s Father/Son weekend.  Filled with beer pong and paint ball…you can learn a lot about the parents you had been sitting next to all season long watching those soccer games. (You know who you are…shhh, they might see me)  After a Friday evening and Saturday of Shenanigans (nice place to go also) Scott Whetzal suggested going to Churchill Downs on Sunday.  Even though I was in a bit of a fog (thanks to Patron Silver), I found the ability to say something like…”Uh?”  Anyway, Scott and Jason, Tyler and I and Justin all rolled down the street and into the parking lot at Churchill Downs…where the ponies were running that day!  Another first…I had never been to the races!  My first horse race and I am getting to experience it at Churchill Downs.

And it was a wonderful experience!  I actually wagered a bit, although I had no idea of what I was doing…I still came out “on top” at day’s end.  We were right down on the rail and were able to see the horses, jockeys and trainers all pass in front of us prior to the race and head back to the stables afterwards.  The colors are spectacular and the excitement…well I can’t imagine what it would be like during the actual Run for the Roses!  Yeah, it was that cool.

They say there are as many different recipes for a Mint Julep as there are blades of bluegrass in Kentucky.  Not sure about that, but I do know I have seen a lot more than I expected.  So in honor of the 137th Kentucky Derby being held at Churchill Downs this weekend, I present a few of those blades of Kentucky bluegrass (Mint Julep recipe)

This first recipe is from Imbibe Magazine…and I believe chronicled in Southern Cocktails; Dixie Drinks, Party Potions and Classic Libations.

Mint Julep

6–7 fresh mint leaves
1 Tbsp. simple syrup

2 oz. bourbon
Crushed ice
Tools: barspoon
Glass: silver julep cup (or highball)
Garnish: mint sprig

Combine mint leaves, syrup and bourbon in a glass. Muddle the mint to release its essence into the liquid. Fill the glass with ice. Gently press the spoon into the ice, shaking it to incorporate the bourbon-syrup mixture. Garnish.

The next recipe is one taken from The Food Network

Mint Julep

  • 4 cups bourbon
  • 2 bunches fresh spearmint
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • Powdered sugar


To prepare mint extract, remove about 40 small mint leaves. Wash and place in a small bowl. Cover with 3 ounces bourbon. Allow the leaves to soak for 15 minutes. Then gather the leaves in paper toweling. Thoroughly wring the mint over the bowl of whisky. Dip the bundle again and repeat the process several times.

To prepare simple syrup, mix 1 cup of granulated sugar and 1 cup of distilled water in a small saucepan. Heat to dissolve sugar. Stir constantly so the sugar does not burn. Set aside to cool.

To prepare mint julep mixture, pour 3 1/2 cups of bourbon into a large glass bowl or glass pitcher. Add 1 cup of the simple syrup to the bourbon.

Now begin adding the mint extract 1 tablespoon at a time to the julep mixture. Each batch of mint extract is different, so you must taste and smell after each tablespoon is added. You are looking for a soft mint aroma and taste-generally about 3 tablespoons. When you think it’s right, pour the whole mixture back into the empty liter bottle and refrigerate it for at least 24 hours to “marry” the flavors.

To serve the julep, fill each glass (preferably a silver mint julep cup) 1/2 full with shaved ice. Insert a spring of mint and then pack in more ice to about 1-inch over the top of the cup. Then, insert a straw that has been cut to 1-inch above the top of the cup so the nose is forced close to the mint when sipping the julep.

When frost forms on the cup, pour the refrigerated julep mixture over the ice and add a sprinkle of powdered sugar to the top of the ice. Serve immediately.

As you can see, this one takes a little more time and effort.  But it is a good one that really captures the mint essence as you prefer.  Most know I like Buffalo Trace bourbon.  So I checked to see what kind of recipe they might have…here it is.

Buffalo Trace Mint Julep

  1. 1 bottle Buffalo Trace
  2. 1 bag mint (about 100 mint leaves with stalks)
  3.  5 oz simple syrup

Break up mint and add to big jar. Add remaining ingredients, give a good stir and then place lid on jar and store for ~4 hours. To serve, pack julep cups with crushed ice, pour julep mixture in and churn. Garnish with individual julep cups with sprigs of mint.

And that is another good one that relies on the large number of mint leaves for its mint flavor, instead of muddling or creating extract.  The recipe that I usually defer to is one that I just tried myself.  When I make my simple syrup (usually 1 part each of water and sugar boiled until sugar is dissolved) I add several mint sprigs.  This gives me a “minty” simple syrup.  And what I do is…

Mint Julep

  1. 3 ounces of Buffalo Trace bourbon
  2. 3/4 ounce mint simple syrup
  3. Mint
  4. Crushed ice
  5. Place the simple syrup and 5-6 mint leaves in a shaker and muddle with a bit of crushed ice. (just enough ice to help muddle the mint)
  6. Fill an Old Fashioned glass with shaved ice. (I do not have silver cups and if I did, I am not sure I would use them…) And let chill.
  7. Add the bourbon to the shaker and shake well for 15-20 seconds.
  8. When frost has developed on the outside of the glass, fill it with the bourbon mixture and enjoy.

Yeah, maybe not as many as the blades of bluegrass, but this will give you something to choose from if you are moved to “Drink a ‘lil Dixie on Derby Day”.  And if you do decide to do so, I think you can’t go wrong with any of these.

Just sit back, perhaps on your porch, in your favorite rocker, feel the warm breeze on your face and enjoy a bit of minty-bourbon bliss.

Louisville.  Nice memories. Great city.

Churchill Downs.  Fun times, fun people.

I consider myself pretty lucky when I stop and think about it.  I just need to stop and think about it more often…instead of running the race I do.

I suggest you do the same.

Published in: on May 5, 2011 at 7:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

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