By Kerri Conan
I spent most of Derby Day in the herb garden under the wide brim of my manky sun-block hat, transplanting seedlings into containers. Our first year in the house, we made the mistake of putting peppermint in a worn out wooden barrel. By the end of the season sprigs and roots had bust out the seams and now, more than a decade later, we have a nice little mint patch alongside the deck.
As I wrapped up the day’s work my husband Sean mixed up the first mint juleps of the season—in honor of the race of course, and to celebrate that the herb has somehow managed to be pleasantly prolific without taking over the whole property. There’s a lot to be said for wrong turns.Our mint juleps are the product of intentional poor procedure. Instead of muddling a little bit of mint in some sugar or simple syrup, we start by gently pounding a couple fistfuls of mint directly in the bourbon. (For this first batch, we used a mixture of spear- and peppermints.) Sacrilege to aficionados and probably the entire state of Kentucky, but I have the greatest respect for this fine American product. When I want to taste bourbon, I drink it straight. Shouldn’t a julep be more like minty adult koolaid?
Agree or not, the idea here is to infuse the bourbon—not the sweetener—with mint. Sort of like a tincture. So after muddling (in a small glass pitcher, with a small wooden spoon) let the booze sit for as long as patience will allow before adding just a splash of simple syrup. Since the mint is actually quite sweet, once you unleash its flavor, surprisingly little more sugar is needed. Then pack the pitcher with crushed ice and give a stir with the spoon, careful not to pull any of the mint above the ice raft. Let the concoction sit for a minute and use the time to prepare some appropriate snacks.
When you’re ready to serve, top off the pitcher and fill two small glasses (silver ones if you’ve got them I guess) with more ice. Now pour the juleps into the tumblers; the ice floating on top of the pitcher acts as a strainer. Garnish each with a mint sprig and sip.