May's fun. Classes are out for undergrads, and spring has (mostly) finally come to the tundra that is the Midwest. This is good news for all. This weekend has two of the finest festivities celebrated all season - the Kentucky Derby and Cinco de Mayo. I've already covered my favorite Cinco de Mayo recipe earlier this year with our YFD Spring Break post - if you need a reminder, take a Corona and throw in a sliced jalapeno - it'll blow your mind. That's what I'm doing Sunday.
But Saturday, friends, is time to watch a horse race. One of my favorite things about this quasi-column is that I get to rant about some of the things I find entertaining, and the Derby is one such spectacle. There's this sport, horse racing, that doesn't have many casual fans - yet NBC hypes it like crazy and dedicates most of two days covering the lead-up races and then the two-minute sprint at Churchill Downs. It's been called the "fastest two minutes in sports" and I don't know what else.
What gets me about the Derby is really how obscure horse racing is and how completely foreign the whole thing is to most people. There's trainers and jockeys and owners and the horses themselves - and if the track is a bit damp or a bit dry or whatever it changes the whole complexion of the day. The stakes are high - millions of dollars for the jockeys, immortality for the owners, and sometimes even the lives of the horses. There's no coming back from a Ware or a Theismann or a Lattimore in horse racing.
For such a niche spot, though, they sure can throw a party, can't they? Fashion guides and drink recipes and track etiquette books abound. I mostly care about the bourbon, though. Kentucky's most prized export - apart from one-and-done basketball players - is bourbon. I've written extensively about it here, but the best part of the Derby is pretty simple. It's this: (HT: blogs-images.forbes.com)
Ah, the Mint Julep. I'm sure our friends over at And Down The Stretch They Come have more on the subject, but here at MnB we've got a recipe we swear can't be beat. People swear by all sorts of things: special mint syrups, imported sugars, fine bourbons, special cups, whatever. With the julep, the key is simplicity. Here's all you need to do to become an expert on horse racing:
You will need:
- Bourbon - Maker's Mark for those of you who love sweet bourbon, Knob Creek or Woodford for something more bitter
- Fresh mint leaves - don't skimp here. Spent the three bucks for some fresh mint - it's worth it. No syrups or anything like that.
- Powdered sugar
- Ice - a few big cubes or something like this
- Water or club soda (optional)
- A chilled metal cup - well, if you want to be traditional. this is the way to go.
Put 3-4 mint leaves in the bottom of the cup. Dust with sugar and add two or three ice cubes. Use your hands to grind the ice cubes into the mint leaves and sugar for about 10 seconds (if you're using small ice cubes, just use a spoon to crush them into the mint). Carefully remove the mint leaves. Fill the remainder of the glass 3/4 full with ice.
Now add your bourbon. Fill to just below the top of the ice - if you want to cut it with a bit of water, now's your chance - but don't do that. Juleps were meant to be strong. Maker's is so good because it's nice and sweet, especially with plenty of ice. Don't dilute it. After your liquid's in, stir gently and then dust the top of the drink with powdered sugar and garnish with a sprig of mint. You're done. It should look something like the picture on the left.
Maker's Mark has an official recipe you can check out here - but it's a bit more involved. It's good too - but simplest is best with juleps. Enjoy Derby Weekend, Michigan Faithful!