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MINT TO BE

This classic Kentucky Derby cocktail is refreshingly simple.

WRITTEN BY CHRISTINA NELLEMANN
PHOTO BY CHRIS HOLLOMAN

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"You don’t usually see a lot of cocktails come out of the Middle East,” says Dave Monachello, manager of Cottonwood Restaurant & Bar in Truckee.

The refined mint julep actually has its fragrant roots in the 18th century, in Persian and Arabic icy, rosewater drinks. While the Persian gulab and the Arabic julab (translated to rosewater) both eliminated the alcohol, they were served in the classic pewter or silver cup that is held by the edge or bottom, allowing frost to form on the outside.

The sprigs of mint appeared later as the drink traveled to the Mediterranean region. The rosewater was replaced with sugar syrup and spirits such as rum, gin, and brandy as it made its way into Europe and the southern states. In 1862, Jerry Thomas, the “father of mixology,” wrote five recipes for the mint julep in his book Bartenders Guide: How to Mix Drinks, and in 1938, the mint julep became the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, where it is served with bourbon or Old Forester Kentucky whiskey. (Each year, almost 120,000 mint juleps are served during the prestigious two-day horse race, which always is held the first Saturday of May.)

Even though the mint julep’s history is intricate, the actual drink is easy to make.

“I love it,” Monachello says. “It’s such a delicate, simple recipe.”

Trevor Leppek, co-owner and bar manager of Pignic Pub & Patio in Reno, also loves the mint julep for its fresh look.

“All the ingredients play well together and look really nice in the cup,” Leppek says.

Leppek adds that people who like to drink classics such as the Manhattan and Old Fashioned in winter will enjoy a mint julep in summer. Bartenders at Pignic serve juleps in copper cups, and both Pignic and Cottonwood use fresh, young spearmint from their bar gardens.

Christina Nellemann is a writer and gardener living in Washoe Valley and now knows what to do with her baby mint.

Resources

Enjoy a frosty mint julep at these Kentucky Derby Day events

Kentucky Derby Party at The Depot
11 a.m. – 4 p.m. May 7
The Depot Craft Brewery Distillery, Reno
For details, visit www.Facebook.com/thedepotreno 

Juleps, Jockeys and Jazz Derby Day Fundraiser
Junior League of Reno
2 – 7 p.m. May 7
Hidden Valley Country Club, Reno
$65 per person
For details, visit www.Jlreno.org/derbyday  

Pignic Derby Day on the Patio
May 7
Pignic Pub & Patio, 235 Flint St., Reno
Pignic will serve mint juleps and southern barbecue and encourages guests to wear white suits and floppy hats. Live music will be available on the patio.
For details and prices, visit www.Facebook.com/pignicpub 

Derby Day at Chapel Tavern
Noon – 5 p.m. May 7
Chapel Tavern’s annual Kentucky Derby celebration will feature $5 juleps, hors d’oeuvres, betting boards, and general revelry. Derby attire is encouraged.
1099 S. Virginia St., Reno
775-324-2244; www.Chapeltavern.com 

Recipes

Classic Mint Julep

(courtesy of Trevor Leppek, owner and bar manager of Pignic Pub & Patio in Reno. Serves 1)

2 ounces Kentucky straight bourbon such as Maker’s Mark or Bulleit

1 teaspoon (or bar spoon) table sugar

6 spearmint leaves

2 young spearmint sprigs

Cracked/chipped ice

Julep cup or tall, slim Collins glass

Muddle mint leaves and sugar in bottom of cup or glass with spoon. Add chipped ice and then bourbon. Stir with spoon for 20 revolutions or until the cup or glass frosts up. Pack cup or glass with more ice and garnish with 2 nice sprigs of mint, so the person imbibing also gets mint aroma.

Pignic Mint Julep

(courtesy of Trevor Leppek, Pignic Pub & Patio in Reno. Serves 1)

2 ounces Maker’s Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon

¾ ounce mint-infused Demerara syrup (see recipe below)

2 mint sprigs (Leppek uses mint from the Pignic garden)

Cracked/chipped ice

Copper mule cup or tall, slim Collins glass

Pour bourbon and simple syrup into copper mug or Collins glass and top with chipped/cracked ice. Stir with spoon for 20 revolutions or until cup or glass frosts up. Pack cup or glass with more ice and garnish with 2 nice sprigs of mint.

Mint-Infused Demerara Simple Syrup

1½ cups packed fresh mint leaves

1 cup Demerara or Turbinado sugar

1 cup water

Chop mint. In saucepan, bring sugar, water, and mint to boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Simmer syrup undisturbed for 2 minutes. Pour syrup through fine sieve, pressing hard on solids, and cool. Keep syrup covered in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Add an ounce of vodka to prolong life of syrup.

Cottonwood Mint Julep

(courtesy of Dave Monachello, manager, Cottonwood Restaurant & Bar in Truckee. Serves 1)

2 ounces Buffalo Trace Bourbon (for a spicier julep) or Maker’s Mark (for a sweeter julep)

½ ounce mint simple syrup (see recipe below)

Crushed ice

1 full sprig baby mint

Into silver julep cup or tall Collins glass, pour crushed ice, simple syrup, and bourbon. Stir with spoon until cup or glass gets frosty; add sprig of mint and place straw with it, resting against mint.

“Don’t muddle the mint. That’s a mojito,” Monachello says. “It makes it very minty … like toothpaste.”

Mint Simple Syrup

1 part sugar

1 part water

3 to 4 full mint sprigs

Heat water and sugar together in a pan until sugar dissolves. Add mint sprigs, turn off heat, and let infuse in pan overnight. Take mint sprigs out and keep syrup in covered container in refrigerator for up to a week.

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