One of the things we love the most about being Bed & Breakfast owners (particularly in the beautiful state of Kentucky) is sharing some of our favorite local treasures and history with our guests. One piece of knowledge we find particularly interesting is that even though 95% of bourbon is produced in Kentucky (truth be told, bourbon barrels actually outnumber individuals here in the Bluegrass State), bourbon is surprisingly NOT our official state drink.
As of 1985, that honor belongs to milk. No… seriously.
And although we are always happy to provide a tall, cool glass of the official Kentucky state beverage to accompany our delicious fresh-baked cookies, few drinks say “Spring has Sprung” more than a refreshing mint julep. In fact, April is officially Mint Julep Month in Louisville!
So, join us as we tip our derby hats to one of the finest “smashed” drinks Kentucky has to offer…the mint julep.
A Healthy Dose of Mint Juleps
Mint juleps have become synonymous with the Kentucky Derby, with nearly 120,000 of these delectable delicacies served during the derby weekend alone. However, the original mint julep (although differing significantly from the modern recipe) was used medicinally for hundreds of years before the horses ever took to the track.
Mint, being well-known for its therapeutic properties as both a decongestant and digestive aid, combined with tonic water and a sweetener (often honey, sugar, or sorghum) was often prescribed as a means to alleviate a number of ailments such as the common cold, fever, and a variety of gastrointestinal issues. When combined with a little extra something in the form of alcohol, many have found it to be the cure for what ails them. Even if what ails them is simply the need for a bit of rest and relaxation, all of which we are well equipped to provide here at the Inn at Woodhaven.
Some earlier versions of this tincture called for brandy, as opposed to bourbon. The mint julep’s Cuban cousin, the mojito, uses rum. We, however, are partial to the local spirits produced at some of the amazing bourbon distilleries in and around Louisville. You may already have one of the more well-known distilleries like Buffalo Trace, Maker’s Mark, and Woodford Reserve in your personal collection. If you’re looking for something new to add to your life, some of our personal favorite distilleries from the area include Rabbit Hole, Kentucky Peerless, Limestone Branch, or Bardstown Bourbon. Either way, it’s hard to go wrong with this refreshing concoction.
Trust us, your tastebuds will thank you!
The Ultimate Mint Julep Recipe
Perhaps the most challenging part of crafting the perfect mint julep is deciding which phenomenal Kentucky bourbon you will use as the base. It should be noted that while all bourbon is whiskey, not all whiskey is bourbon. If that just made your mind explode, we get it. Simply put, whiskey can be brewed anywhere in the world. To be considered bourbon, though, the distilling process has to follow Bourbon Law as outlined in the Bottle and Bond Act of 1897. You can find more on that here.
Many people are surprised to learn that the official derby mint juleps are not made with bourbon but rather whiskey. However, the most commonly used spirit for these lovely libations is bourbon whiskey. If you’re a mint julep traditionalist, we recommend using one of Four Roses small batch bourbons. If you’d describe your drinking style as more eclectic, you may want to try Angel’s Envy bourbon finished in port wine barrels. And if you are a julep rebel and feel like bucking tradition and getting extra adventurous, the Rittenhouse Rye from Heaven Hill would make for a unique and signature concoction for your derby guests.
Once you have selected your whiskey, the rest is simple. There are only three other ingredients needed for this tasty treat: simple syrup, mint leaves, and crushed ice.
Our Signature Simple Syrup to Make a Mean Mint Julep
The recipe for simple syrup is as easy to remember and make as the name might indicate. This is a 1:1 recipe, meaning you basically mix one equal part of sugar and water to make the final product. But why be so simple…
We add one easy additional step that we find elevates the flavor profile of our mint julep and produces a more versatile result. It’s our mint-infused simple syrup that you can save in the fridge for up to a week. While it’s delectable in the mint julep, we’ve also discovered that it makes an excellent topping to vanilla ice cream and is a great sweetener to add to a cup of black tea.
Want to take things up one additional level (because our style typically involves going above and beyond)? Instead of traditional spearmint for your recipe, spend a little time Googling your local area and see if you can acquire some chocolate mint. It’s real. It’s spectacular. And the plants are available at many garden supply stores. It will take your mint julep to a whole new level.
Mint Simple Syrup Recipe
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup mint leaves (packed) plus a few additional leaves for garnish
Simple Syrup Instructions:
- Wash your mint leaves, “applaud” them, and set them aside. Many recipes will call for you to “muddle” the mint leaves before adding them to the syrup but doing so can cause them to become bitter. Instead, place several leaves in your hand and clap two or three times to help release some of the oils. Applauding them will let them know they are the star of this show and help alleviate the bitterness.
- In a medium saucepan, add the water and sugar and heat (but do not bring to a boil), stirring regularly until the sugar is completely dissolved.
- Remove the pan from the heat and add the mint leaves. Cover and let them rest for about 20- 30 minutes (mint is a fickle, fickle herb and if you let them sit much longer they will become bitter).
- Strain your syrup into a container and let it cool before sealing with a lid and storing in the fridge for up to one week.
Inn at Woodhaven Mint Julep Recipe
- ½ to 1 oz. mint simple syrup (this is strictly based on personal preference according to how sweet you like your drinks)
- 2 oz. Kentucky bourbon whiskey
- 1 cup of ice cubes
- Enough crushed ice to fill your glass
Mint Julep Instructions:
- Fill a shaker with the ice, bourbon, and mint simple syrup and shake vigorously for about 20 seconds.
- Strain into a glass that has been filled with crushed ice (please believe us when we say the type of ice matters here) and top with a mint leaf for garnish.
- Relax and enjoy!
Note: If you do not have a shaker, you can simply add the bourbon and mint simple syrup to a glass and stir well to mix, then add in the crushed ice, stir again and garnish with a mint leaf.
Celebrate this Mint Julep Month to the Max
Louisville takes its mint juleps seriously—but not too seriously. While it’s a drink steeped in history and tradition, we also recognizing that creativity and innovation can make a great thing even better. If you think you’ve got one of the best looking (and best tasting) mint juleps around, snap a picture, use the hashtag #MintJulepMonth, and tag our local tourism board @GoToLouisville on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter for a chance to be featured on their website.