The closest Ben and I have ever come to attending the Kentucky Derby was sitting indoors at the local racetrack sipping pre-made mint juleps while watching the actual race on TV with like, four other people. Not quite the experience we were looking for, but it does make me laugh every time I think about it.
Ooo, actually, I was in Vegas with girlfriends during the derby one year (and even met a few IGE readers as we cheered on our horses at the pool bar!) but technically Iowa is closer to Kentucky then Nevada, so we’re going with the horseless, ill-attended local derby party instead. Ha!
Anyway, things are looking up this year! Ben and I are skipping the smokey racetrack and casino to attend a watch party hosted by some friends – derby attire required. I’ve got my fascinator ready and an easy cocktail recipe to sip on too. Lemon-Ginger Mint Juleps are just the thing to feel like you’re heading to Churchill Downs no matter where you might be!
Truly, attending the Kentucky Derby is high on my bucket list and I cannot wait to attend some day. My Dad hitchhiked there in the 70s, as one does, and said it was a blast. ;) Seriously though, the tradition that surrounds the race is so exciting to me, and unlike any event that occurs in the Midwest. 364 days of the year I have no interest in horse racing yet I’m usually the loudest one in the room during the most exciting two minutes in sports. Eep! What can I say, I love a good adrenaline rush!
I also don’t usually drink anything resembling a mint julep – the official cocktail of the Kentucky Derby – 364 days a year, but on derby day? Hey-o! Bring on the bourbon.
Now, Mint Juleps are a combination of bourbon, simple syrup, and mint, and when done right (ie not too much simple syrup,) they are super, super delicious. Wanting to give the classic cocktail my own little spin, I decided to add a lemon wedge and splash of ginger ale. Forget my old derby day rule – we’ll be making these all summer long. So refreshing!!
Couple of notes:
- Like regular Mint Juleps, this easy cocktail recipe calls for crushed ice. Not only does it give you that classic derby drink experience, but it also serves a purpose. Crushed ice melts faster then ice cubes, diluting the drink and noticeably changing it’s flavor. In a good way! That said, I always wait a few minutes between pouring and taking my first sip. (Torture, I know.)
- If you order a Mint Julep at a bar you’ll get a sprig of mint stuffed inside. It’s fun and festive. BUT, when making Lemon-Ginger Mint Juleps at home, go a step further and slap that bad boy first. Yes! Place a big mint sprig in one hand then slap/clap it with the other before popping it into the ice. This releases the mint’s oils which you’ll get a whiff of every time you take a sip.
- This might go without saying, but if you don’t like bourbon, you probably won’t like this drink. ;)
Ok! For one cocktail, add 1 lemon wedge (pic shows 2 – use 1), 8 mint leaves, and 1/4 – 1/2oz simple syrup depending on how sweet you want it (I use a scant 1/2oz), to the bottom of a cocktail shaker or wide-mouth mason jar. Use the handle of a wooden spoon, or a muddler if you’ve got one, to muddle the ingredients just enough. Not too much or the mint can turn bitter.
Add a couple handfuls of ice cubes to your shaker or jar then pour 2oz bourbon on top and use the handle to stir the drink until it’s very cold. Mint Juleps are typically stirred, not shaken, so stir even if you’re using a shaker. I’ve used both Maker’s Mark and Bulleit bourbons to make this drink. Old Forester is The Mint Julep Bourbon, so that’s another good option too!
Pack a rocks glass with crushed ice then strain the drink inside. Top with ginger ale (I love Fever Tree brand) then garnish with a big sprig of slapped mint, which is a fun party trick if you’re making this drink for guests. ;)
Whether you’re enjoying this easy cocktail recipe for the derby or any ol’ day of the year – enjoy, and CHEERS!
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Lemon-Ginger Mint Juleps
Lemon-Ginger Mint Juleps are perfect for the Kentucky Derby, or anytime you're craving a refreshing and easy cocktail recipe!
- 1 lemon wedge (see notes)
- 8 mint leaves + 1 big sprig for a slapped garnish
- 1/4 - 1/2oz simple syrup, depending on how sweet you want it (see notes)
- 2oz (1/4 cup) bourbon (I like Maker's Mark or Bulleit)
- Ginger ale (I like Fever Tree)
- crushed ice
- Add lemon wedge, mint leaves, and simple syrup to the bottom of a cocktail shaker or a wide-mouth mason jar then use the handle of a wooden spoon to muddle the ingredients just enough - not too much or the mint will turn bitter. Add a couple big handfuls of ice cubes and the bourbon then stir with the wooden handle until very cold.
- Pack a rocks glass (also called a lowball or Old Fashioned glass) with crushed ice then strain the drink inside (I pour the drink through my cocktail shaker's strainer then through a fine mesh sieve.) Top with ginger ale.
- Place the mint sprig garnish in one hand then clap/slap it with your other hand to release its essential oils. Stick the sprig in the drink leaving the leaves above the ice so you can smell them every time you take a drink. I like to let the Ginger-Lemon Mint Juleps sit and dilute for a few minutes before taking a sip. As the crushed ice melts it really changes the flavor of the cocktail!
- For the lemon wedges: slice a lemon in half lengthwise then each half into quarters.
- For the simple syrup: add 1/2 cup each water and sugar into a mason jar then microwave for 1 minute. Stir then continue microwaving in 15 second increments until the simple syrup is clear. Refrigerate until cold - can be made up to a couple weeks ahead of time.
This recipe is courtesy of Iowa Girl Eats, http://iowagirleats.com.