I have been watching the Kentucky Derby as long as I can remember. Growing up, my dad always watched the Derby and passed along his love of racing. Over the past 25 years my wife Jenn and I have developed several traditions around horses and racing, including watching races on TV and visiting Saratoga, a racing mecca. Jenn's family's horse racing heritage goes back four generations, as her grandfather Arthur Patenaude was superintendent at Lincoln Downs for many years, following in the footsteps of his father who was not only superintendent at Lincoln, but managed the move of the track from Burrillville to Lincoln in the 1940s.
One of my favorite race day traditions is making (and consuming) Mint Juleps, the official cocktail of the Derby. Even if you're not a whiskey drinker, the sweetness and mint flavor make it pretty darn easy to drink. Here is the recipe I use:
- Ingredients: Bourbon, simple syrup, fresh mint, crushed ice.
- Serve: In a nice tumbler or a tall "collins" glass. The Kentucky tradition is to use a chilled copper cup, but most people don't have those.
- Pour 3/4 oz of simple syrup into a glass. You can buy the syrup or make your own by combining equal parts of sugar and water (1/4 cup of each works), and boiling in a sauce pan for 5 minutes (Be sure to chill it).
- Add 3-4 mint leaves and muddle them in the bottom of the glass. This entails crushing the leaves just enough so that you break the outer membrane and release the mint flavor.
- Add enough crushed ice to fill 1/2 the glass. Ice cubes work OK in a pinch, but they really change the essence of the drink.
- Add 2 oz. or bourbon. My brand suggestions are Woodford Reserve, Buffalo Trace or Maker's Mark, but cheaper brands like Jim Beam or Evan Williams will do if you're on a tight budget.
- Stir with a fancy swizzle stick (essential!).
- Fill the glass with crushed ice and stir again.
- Serve with a sprig of mint
- MY CHEAT - Mint leaves must be bought fresh and they can fall apart when you muddle them, so in a pinch you can use peppermint extract. Just be VERY careful, as that stuff is super potent. Don't pour extract. Instead, dip about a quarter inch of a toothpick into the extract and then swirl it into the drink to get that mint taste. Too much extract will destroy the drink and make it taste like extremely strong mouthwash, so go very gentle with it.
Hope you have a GREAT race day. Don't forget your hat!! In the grand scheme of things, the Kentucky Derby is a fairly small part of the racing world, as it features only three year olds whose racing careers are still fairly young, but it is easily the most high profile and glamorous of all races. All three Triple Crown races (The Derby, Preakness Stakes and the Belmont) are open to just just three year olds, most of whom are running those distances for the first time (1.25 miles, 1.1875 miles and 1.5 miles respectively).
The biggest races of the year that are akin to playoffs, Super Bowl or World Series are the Breeder's Cup series races, which crown racing's champion every year and run from summer to November. Those don't have an official cocktail but I'll try like heck to come up with one!
(photo courtesy of Getty Images)