The Kentucky Derby, Bourbon and Mint Juleps

Written by Chad Caya, Guest Author/Bourbon Lover


Saturday the 7th of May is the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby.  We, in the Upper Midwest, have been casual observers, amateur gamblers and mostly interested in the hype of the fastest two minutes in sports. Even more, the popularity of bourbon and American whiskey have caught up with the Running of the Roses.  I want to integrate the two and ensure that you have many options for all of your guests before the race, serving mint juleps- THE drink of the Kentucky Derby.

The best attribute of the mint julep is that it is a great bridge for non-whiskey drinkers (aka-vodka/gin/white rum) to brown (barrel aged) spirits. Anytime you introduce herbs (in this case, mint) and sugar to the mix, it provides a balance and very palatable and refreshing cocktail .  I am going to give recommendations for all…

New to whiskey–  Basil Hayden’s (BH) – BH is coming in at 80 proof- very soft, subtle, hints of nutmeg.  Also a great neat (no ice, water) sipper.

Crowd pleaser–  Rebel Yell or Bernheim  – These are wheat bourbons/whiskeys.  Wheat bourbons (same as Pappy Van Winkle) give a softer, sweeter finish to your julep and are what most people prefer in their cocktails.

Traditionalist–  Woodford Reserve – Woodford is the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby.  All of the Happy Harry’s locations have a limited amount of commemorative Kentucky Derby bottles as well as the regular formats you would usually see.

The bourbon drinker–  Stagg Jr. – Bourbon drinkers usually drink their dram neat.  Mixing a barrel-proof Stagg Jr. (around 138 proof) with the classic components of a julep gives one the full bodied, full punch that an experienced bourbon connoisseur would like.

Outside the box–  E.H. Taylor Rye – A rye julep is not usually served on Derby Day but there is nothing more refreshing than a spicy, minty, zesty punch of Bottled in Bond (100 proof) goodness.

As far as mint julep recipes go, there are the basics- mint (spearmint if available, store mint acceptable), sugar (powdered sugar preferred, simple syrup acceptable), whiskey and ice.  No rules about increments, experiment to your liking.

One thing we can all do after buying our bourbon/ whiskey from Happy Harry’s is, on the way out the door, grab a bag or two of complimentary ice, take it home and crush it in it’s plastic bag, transfer it to your cooler/freezer and get ready for service.  In your julep vessel or tall collins glass, fill it with the crushed ice and ingredients and top off with a sprig of mint and a short straw close to the ice. The short straw enables you to smell the aromatics as you drink the julep.


Chad Caya

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