a minty winner of a drink

I wrote a guest post for Gourmet VegMama's Thursday Cocktail series (though cocktails are just one of the things she posts about-- check out her blog for great vegetarian recipes for the young'uns and grown-ups alike!)  And read on if you plan on having an icy julep in hand this weekend...

pineapple julep- photo courtesy of drink.well

I’ve always been captivated by the Kentucky Derby.  An excuse to dress up, wear big hats, bet on horses with tongue-in-cheek names, and drink boozy, refreshing drinks? Umm.. yes, please!  You can bet my dress is already picked out with a hat to match for this weekend’s race.

But I’ve always wondered where the tradition of drinking mint juleps came from.  The combination of bourbon, mint, sugar, and water is so ingrained in Derby culture, it’s nearly impossible to hear the word “julep” and not think of the races!  The word “julep” itself is derived from the Persian word for rose water, but according to Wikipedia, “the origins of the mint julep are clouded and may never be definitely known.”  But the first American julep sightings occurred in the late eighteen century after Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky brought the beverage into popularity...

Now, in the course of two days each year, around 120,000 juleps are served at Churchill Downs in Louisville during the Kentucky Derby.  And did you know they also sell ultra-premium mint juleps for $1000 each??  Served in gold-plated cups with silver straws, these high rollers’ cocktails are made with Woodford Reserve bourbon, mint imported from Ireland, spring water ice cubes from the Bavarian Alps, and sugar from Australia.  (The proceeds are used to support organizations dedicated to retired horses.)

Thirsty yet?  Here are a couple places in town hosting Derby parties this Saturday May 4th in Austin.  Want to host your own?  Scroll down for a several delicious julep variations from the mixologists of drink.well!

Maybe you didn’t even know there was a polo club in Austin?  I sure didn’t!  But this is the third year of this annual event, where you can watch two live polo matches before the Derby begins at 5:40pm.  General admission is $20, while VIP runs $50-75 (how VIP are you??)  Proceeds benefit the Texas Canine and Horse Rescue and the horses of the Longhorn and Aggie polo clubs.

Prize baskets will be given out for best dressed and best hat while bartenders pour juleps in flavors like ginger and blackberry, or a sweet tea collins, if you prefer!  Enjoy a hot brown sandwiches while they screen The Run for the Roses before the races start.

Tickets are $30 online and $40 at the door and include open bar, bites from local restaurants, and live music from Waterloo Revival and The Possum Posse.  All proceeds benefit diabetes research.

Can’t decide which one to celebrate?  Or maybe only have one day to do it all?  Kill two birds with one stone: julep and bloody mary specials and a Cinco de Mayo menu. 

Tickets are $20 and include one “bet”-- additional ones may be purchased for $5.  Dress to impress, as there will be prizes for that too.  All proceeds go to Austin’s Sunshine Camps.  

If you’re in it for the drinks, this is where you need to be (I’ll be here!)  The award-winning staff will be dressed to the nines and shaking up creative cocktails as usual, such as pineapple and baker’s rack juleps (recipes below), Jabronis (a hybrid julep/Negroni), and Seelbachs, an aperitif named after the Louisville hotel where it was created.

Baker's Rack julep- photo courtesy of drink.well

Baker's Rack Julep
courtesy of drink.well

1 oz Rittenhouse 100 Proof Rye Whiskey
1 oz Apple Brandy 
.5 oz Cinnamon & Clove Infused Brown Sugar Syrup
7-8 Mint Leaves
Black Pepper

Muddle mint with the cinnamon-clove syrup. Add rye whiskey & apple brandy and crushed ice to the julep cup and swizzle until the cup is frosty. Top with additional crushed ice. Grated fresh nutmeg & cracked black pepper on top of the cup. Garnish with mint, cinnamon stick and, if you desire, a few slices of fresh apples.

Pineapple Julep (adapted from Jerry Thomas' Bon Vivants Companion)
courtesy of drink.well

1.5 oz Bols Genever
.5 oz Raspberry Syrup
2 Barspoons Housemade Pineapple Preserves
1 lemon wedge
1 orange wedge
1 oz Sparkling Wine (we use McPherson Extra Dry)

Muddle the citrus with the preserves and syrup. Shake with the genever and strain into a julep cup. Top with a mound of crushed ice and then top with 1 oz of Sparkling Wine. Garnish with a pineapple wedge, fresh raspberries and mint.