Nick Hahn and the search for the perfect Derby julep
Orb prior to the 2013 Preakness. Photo by Laurie Asseo.
by Nick Hahn
NOTE: Nick Hahn has sampled — and heartily approves of — the recipe herein.
The quest for the refreshing mint julep, the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby, leaves many Always Dreaming. Yet drink jockey Nick Hahn is a Proud Clarion in his Spectacular Bid for the perfect mint julep.
Balance is critical. Jockeys may find the Kentucky Derby a Grindstone between speed and distance; trainers conditioning and education; owners investment and trust; and breeders hope and luck. The successful Mint Julep is a balance between sweetness and bourbon flavor.
First off, consider your bourbon as you would your horse. Odds of a low-end bourbon bringing you home are slim, so Spend a Buck to find class. My Big Brown is usually Woodford Reserve or Maker’s Mark.
The next step is where the cocktail is Affirmed. A Genuine Risk is the preparation of the simple syrup. Churchill Downs traditionally calls for a 50/50 balance of sugar and water brought to a boil for the creation of the simple syrup. I find that ratio a Foolish Pleasure.
Backing off the sugar to a 1/4th sugar, 3/4th water is a Super Saver to the drink. The improvised syrup formula not only leads to a more Charismatic water/sugar ratio but also a more Unbridled bourbon/syrup correlation.
While mint exists in several hybrid forms such as spearmint or water mint, peppermint, specifically black peppermint, carries the most Street Sense for a julep. The menthol in the mint causes the body to produce the receptor protein, TRPM8, that fools the brain to think the drink is cooler than it is with a mild numbing sensation causing the taste buds to become Real Quiet.
I like to infuse mint into the boiling process by adding approximately 5-6 sprigs from a Pleasant Colony of well washed mint. Once the simple syrup is brought to a healthy boil, pull from heat for approximately 2 minutes (1:59 2/5 precisely, Secretariat’s record Derby time). The Winning Colors should appear when the syrup’s pigment can be seen to Strike the Gold. Carry Back the mint leaves from the boil, and after a light squeeze over the syrup, discard. The syrup should be placed in a temperature-safe container and cooled in the refrigerator for one-and-a-quarter hours.
Fill your Kentucky Derby glass top the rim with several Orb-shaped cubes of ice slightly larger than a half-inch. With the glass prepared, fill it one-third with your selected favorite Kentucky bourbon. Complete the rest of the glass with the simple syrup and Swale the contents with a Silver Charm to lightly stir the mixture.
Set the healthiest, freshest sprig of mint on the Funny Cide of the glass to complete and serve. Stay ahead of demands and expect guests to say, “I’ll Have Another.” While consuming on the first Saturday in May, try not to overdo it and don’t Go for Gin, as there are no guarantees for Sunday Silence.