Happy Kentucky Derby! This is the place where I'm now supposed to tell you that today would be a great day to go out and drink a julep in celebration of a horse race in Kentucky you barely care about, but hey it's an excuse to drink and wear a big hat so who cares? But alas, I'm not going to do that. Why? Because mint juleps are kind of bullshit.
That's right, I said it. I consider myself a somewhat proud somewhat Southerner and I still said it.
Did you ever stop to think about the aesthetic trappings of the julep? A silver cup, piled high with crushed ice. In the South in the 1800's, ice was scarce, a luxury ingredient that was only for the very wealthy. The julep was a way to showcase your wealth, to swan around at your fancy horse race and show off your big silver cup piled high with ice. It was a display of excess. Like the original pimp cup, but for slave owners. Awesome!
All that aside, the drink itself just isn't that great. Bourbon and sugar and a touch of mint. Most juleps are too sweet for my liking. Bourbon is already a sweet spirit, and while many fantastic cocktails start with the same premise -- whiskey and sugar -- most of the good ones benefit from the addition of some form of bitters to balance the sugar. I'd rather drink straight bourbon than a julep, and if the bourbon you're using needs sugar and a big silver cup to make it good, get a different bourbon.
But not to fear. There's another derby drink that's way more fun in its own way. And while it also lacks bitters, it's a fizz, so the light fluffiness works with the bourbon and sugar, and the lemon helps to balance it. I found a recipe a couple of years ago when looking for a derby drink alternative and have tweaked it over the years. It's a mild drink, perfect for a breakfast cocktail on a hot Friday.
Makes: 1 drink
1.5 oz bourbon
Dash Cointreau (I sometimes sub Aperol)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon simple syrup
1. Put all the ingredients except soda water into a shaker with cracked ice.
2. Shake vigorously, then pour into a tall glass.
3. Top with soda water.