The Kentucky Derby, May 2; The Preakness Stakes, May 16; and The Belmont Stakes, June 6. The Triple Crown. For racing fans, the “fastest two minutes in sports” conjure visions of gentlemen in seersucker suits, gowned ladies in beautiful hats, brightly suited jockeys atop rippling horse flesh and, of course, the Mint Julep.
Cocktails have been intertwined with American horse racing since the Run for the Roses first began in 1875. Drinks were named for horses and races and the recipes for them have changed with the times. If you have a horse in the race this year, or even just a party, try out this Triple Crown of cocktails this season.
The Derby (the drink) is at least 65 years old and relies on bourbon as the centerpiece flavor. Since Kentucky is the home of the first race of the Triple Crown, it’s little wonder that many of the cocktails use bourbon — particularly the one for it’s namesake.
•1 ounce bourbon
•½ ounce sweet vermouth
•½ ounce orange curacao
•Juice of half a lime
•Mint or lime wedge for garnish
Add all the ingredients to a cocktail shaker, add ice, shake well and strain into martini glass garnishing with lime or mint. Both if you’re feeling adventurous. This drink is simple, a bit sweet and refreshing.
Each race has a signature drink — the White Carnation for the Belmont Stakes and the Black Eyed Susan for the Preakness. Both have been worked and reworked over the years, though the Black Eyed Susan has been openly ridiculed for it’s lack of consistency in both the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post. In my opinion, The White Carnation is a better drink overall. And it doesn’t require bourbon. Or whatever the Black Eyed Susan recipe du jour calls for. Give this one a spin around the track instead.
White Carnation (Belmont)
•2 ounces vodka
•1/2 ounce peach schnapps
•2 ounces orange juice
•Splash of cream
•Orange slice for garnish
Pour the vodka, schnapps and orange juice into a shaker, fill with ice and shake well. Strain into a highball glass filled with ice. Top it all off with soda water and a splash of cream and garnish with an orange slice. Voila: creamy sweetness that reminds one of an orange cream soda.
The Mint Julep has a long history in American bartending and has captured the imagination of Americans for more than 160 years. Howard Paul wrote about them this way in 1853: “The ‘Mint Julep’ is the most fashionable drink of the summer season; and when the large goblet is diamonded with bits of ice, that rise like a miniature Alpine glacier with a coquettish forest of mint garnishing the side, and the summits crowned with a couple of rosy strawberries, the appearance, to begin with, is hugely fascinating in warm weather.” I could not agree more. And it’s not just the appearance that makes the julep popular. The recipe he referred to is likely the Georgia Mint Julep which called for brandy and cognac, widely used before bourbon became an American bartender’s staple.
Georgia Mint Julep
•8 or more sprigs of fresh mint
•1 teaspoon white sugar
•1 teaspoon water
•2 ounces cognac (or other brandy)
•1½ ounces peach brandy
In a silver julep cup or double rocks glass, muddle most of the mint with the sugar and water. Add the cognac and peach brandy and fill with crushed ice. Stir well and garnish with the remaining mint. To create what we think of today as a Mint Julep, substitute the cognac and peach brandy for Kentucky bourbon or your favorite whiskey.
Crushed ice is a must for this drink and the a true connoisseur will demand spearmint. Be advised that it is also best to muddle the mint and not tear it as that can result in some embarrassing tooth picking. And that is just not genteel.
For an authentic drinking experience, you’ll also want a silver pewter julep cup for both versions. Nothing is more satisfying on a hot day at the races (or even just in your back yard) than sitting with a perspiring “diamonded” cup full of goodness.