Apricot Julep

Are you prepared for “The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports”? You’ll need Mint Juleps (and a twist with this apricot version)—the Kentucky Derby is coming up. This horse race held annually in Louisville, Kentucky, always on the first Saturday in May, might be short, but the locals stretch the famous two minutes into a month-long party with the Kentucky Derby Festival. And Derby Week starts this Sunday, April 28. Better get muddling and mixing.

The Mint Julep has been the traditional beverage of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby for nearly a century. The classic drink consists of bourbon, mint, and sugar syrup. At Churchill Downs, the Mint Julep served today is a ready-made bottled cocktail. Each year, almost 120,000 Mint Juleps are served over the two-day period of the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby. This requires over 10,000 bottles of the ready-to-serve cocktail, 1,000 pounds of fresh mint, and 60,000 pounds of ice!

If you’d like to make your own, my Difford’s Encyclopedia of Cocktails recommends: 12 fresh mint leaves, 2 ½ shots bourbon whiskey, ¾ shot simple sugar syrup*, and 3 dashes Angostura bitters. To make: lightly muddle mint in the base of a shaker. Add other ingredients, shake with ice, and strain into a Collins glass half filled with crushed ice. Stir the drink with the crushed ice using a bar spoon. Top up the glass with more crushed ice and stir. Repeat until the drink fills the glass and serve.

(*To make simple sugar syrup: It’s 2 parts sugar, 1 part water. Gradually pour sugar into pan of hot water, simmer until dissolved, stirring frequently. Once the sugar is dissolved completely, remove the pan from the heat. Don’t allow the syrup to boil or it will be too thick. Allow to cool, then bottle. If kept in the refrigerator it should last for a few months.)

For a change of pace, mixologist Kathy Casey offers this tasty fruit spin on the classic Julep, which is enlivened with plumped apricots and a splash of apricot brandy. (You’ll want to plan ahead: the apricots should sit for at least 8 hours or overnight, but make enough for about 20 drinks.) And if you want to go all out for a gathering, make some burgoo, a thick stew of beef, chicken, pork, and vegetables, which is a popular Kentucky dish served at the Derby.

Some tidbits to ponder while sipping: The Kentucky Derby is the first leg of the U.S. Triple Crown and is followed by the Preakness Stakes, then the Belmont Stakes. Unlike the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, which took hiatuses in 1891-1893 and 1911-1912 respectively, the Kentucky Derby has been run every consecutive year since 1875, according to wikipedia. A horse must win all three races to win the Triple Crown. Attendance at the Kentucky Derby ranks first in North America and usually surpasses the attendance of all other stakes races, including the Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes, and the Breeders’ Cup. Giddy up!

Apricot Julep

Makes 1 drink

6 large mint leaves
1 tablespoon Plumped Apricots with their syrup (recipe follows)
1 oz. bourbon
1/4 oz. apricot brandy
1 dash Angostura bitters

In a cocktail shaker, combine mint leaves and apricots with their syrup. Hand press with a muddler. Add bourbon, brandy, and bitters. Fill shaker with ice, and shake vigorously for 6 seconds. Pour entire contents into a rocks glass.

Plumped Apricots
Makes about 1 1/2 cups, enough for about 20 drinks

1 c. chopped dried apricots
3/4 c. boiling water
1/2 c. super-fine sugar
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a heatproof container. Stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Cover loosely and let sit for at least 8 hours or overnight at room temperature before using. Store refrigerated until needed.

Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine, and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her son, who used to eat beets and Indian food as a preschooler, will one day again think of real food as more than something you need to eat before dessert and be inspired by his younger brother, who is now into trying new foods.