At 6:34 p.m. on Saturday, May 6, much of America will be planted in front of their television sets, waiting to see which of the 26 horses running the 142nd Kentucky Derby will gallop across the finish line first.
If you’re anything like us, you’ll be watching surrounded by friends – and wood cutting boards covered in mint. After all, Derby season means it’s time for entertaining with mint juleps.
I talked to Joe Cotton, the beverage manager at Ryleigh’s Oyster in Baltimore, a spot known for its fun Triple Crown parties, and asked how he makes his mint juleps. The recipe he gave us was a simple one, but specific. The key to a good mint julep he says, is in finding just the right amount of mint – usually four leaves, but if you’re a serious mint fan, as many as eight will do – and powdered sugar.
“Not simple syrup, not granulated sugar. It makes a difference,” he promises.
Cotton also suggests, if you can, using silver julep cups. “It takes it to another level,” he says. “It helps enhance the drink.” The metal container keeps the drink extra cold, which makes the drink even better.
Cotton shared his recipe with us – they’re very easy to make at home:
Classic Mint Julep
4 fresh mint leaves
1 teaspoon powdered sugar
A splash of water
2 ounces bourbon
Place the sugar, water and the mint leaves in a julep cup and gently muddle to combine. Fill the glass with crushed or shaved ice, then pour the bourbon over the ice and stir gently to combine. Top off the cup with more crushed ice and garnish with a sprig of mint.
With all that bourbon, it’s important that you also have snacks for Derby day.
Cotton loves biscuits with pimento cheese, as a nod to the race’s southern roots. Pimento cheese is available at the grocery store, or you can make your own – it’s just a matter of stirring together a collection of easy to find ingredients, like mayonnaise and grated cheddar cheese. (And, of course, pimentos.) It’s super easy to make and really delicious on biscuits – or crackers or even with veggies.
Biscuits look great casually stacked on a cutting board, too. They don’t have to be too neatly organized to look appetizing. Stuff some with pimento cheese and others with country ham – they’re fabulous cocktail party food.
Cotton also suggests serving Kentucky Hot Browns, a cheesy, rich, open-faced sandwich that was invented in the Brown Hotel in Louisville in 1926. They are a little messy, but any party featuring Hot Browns earns instant Kentucky credibility.
Bourbon, mint and snacks are the main elements required for a great Derby party. But if you want to go above and beyond, dress your house up with a few dozen roses (the race is, after all, the “Run for the Roses”) – or dress yourself up with a fabulous hat.
For more inspiration – from décor and fashion to food and drink – check out the official Kentucky Derby website. The folks behind the race have put together bunches of recipes, party supply lists, fashion ideas and tools to help your party guests indulge in a little friendly wagering on the race.
And, of course, don’t forget to watch the race itself! It starts promptly at 6:34 and will be broadcast on NBC.
I hope at that point you, like us, you’ll have a julep in hand and a cutting board stacked with biscuits at the ready. May the best horse win!
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