The Kentucky Derby is here, and for some reason, that holds a special place in my heart.
It’s not really for some reason; I know exactly why. In second grade, my family went to Louisville, Kentucky for a fencing competition, the Great Lakes Invitational. While my brother, as far as I can remember, did very well, the main takeaway was a visit to Churchill Downs and a weird gravitation toward mint juleps.
So, this week, I chatted with Woodford Reserve’s Elizabeth McCall, the company’s assistant master distiller, about the Kentucky Derby, mint juleps and bourbon. (Woodford Reserve is the Kentucky Derby’s official bourbon brand.)
Pat: Why is the Kentucky Derby so special for the bourbon world? What makes it important to the Woodford brand?
Elizabeth McCall: Bourbon and horses are so deeply intertwined in Kentucky. The Woodford Reserve Distillery is nestled (among) rolling horse pastures where these magnificent athletes are bred and trained. The same nutrient-rich water that gives great flavor and makes great bourbon is what helps horses grow to be strong athletes. It is a joy for us to bring these two worlds together by becoming the presenting sponsor of the Kentucky Derby.
P: Any tips and tricks for an A+ mint julep?
EM: A mint julep always needs plenty of crushed ice, fresh mint, a good quality simple syrup and of course, Woodford Reserve Bourbon. My best tip for making an amazing julep is to rub your glass with the mint leaves first, allowing the mint to express. Then add two ounces of Woodford Reserve Bourbon and a splash of simple syrup. After that, fill with crushed ice and stir, add your sprig of mint, and top with more crushed ice. This allows the mint flavor to incorporate into the cocktail really nicely.
P: What makes Woodford a unique bourbon and what notes should a drinker be looking for?
EM: At Woodford Reserve, we focus on delivering a balanced and complex flavor profile. All of our bourbon is created using the same five sources of flavor (water, grain, fermentation, distillation and maturation), but Woodford Reserve does something special with all five. Our whiskeys are crafted through an artisanal process that creates bourbon with a distinct taste and crisp, clean finish. Woodford Reserve contains over 212 flavors that give it the great complexity and balance that pleases every palate. In any glass of Woodford Reserve, you will find sweet aromatics, spice, fruit and floral, grain character, as well as wood notes. This makes Woodford Reserve a very diverse bourbon. You can enjoy it neat or on the rocks or dress it up in a number of delicious cocktails.
Fun julep twists
Frozen julep (from Templeton)
2 ounces rye whiskey
1/2 ounce crème de menthe
1 ounce pineapple juice
1/4 ounce lime juice
Lemon lime soda
Method: Combine all ingredients except soda in a blender with ice. Blend until smooth, pour into glass, top with soda and garnish with sprig of mint.
Chocolate julep (from Fistful of Bourbon)
2 parts bourbon
1/4 part simple syrup
4 dashes chocolate bitters
8 mint leaves
Method: Tear mint in half, add ingredients to glass, swill with crushed ice and stir. Garnish with grated chocolate and mint leafs.
Classic Wild Turkey julep
2 1/2 parts Wild Turkey bourbon
1/2 ounce simple syrup
12 mint leaves
Method: Add mint leaves and muddle, fill glass with crushed ice and pour in bourbon and simple syrup, mix. Garnish with mint sprig.
N/A julep for those abstaining from booze (from Fresca)
Handful of mint leaves
Handful of ice cubes
3 ounces peach juice
1 teaspoon honey
2 ounces Fresca
Method: Add mint leaves to bottom of shaker, crush with muddler, add ice to shaker with peach juice and honey; shake vigorously. Strain into tumbler with ice, top with Fresca and garnish with mint sprig.
If you need some Derby prep on Saturday, tune into Old Forester Bourbon’s third-annual Kentucky Turtle Derby at 4 p.m. on Old Forester’s YouTube.