Cigar Aficionado

The Mint Julep

While I am an official Kentucky Colonel by order of the governor of said commonwealth, the rights and privileges appertaining to that honorific include neither an invitation to the owners' box at the Kentucky Derby nor even a ticket to the infield. Therefore I will be watching the Run for the Roses in front of my television again this year. This, however, does not mean that I won't be experiencing one of the great rites of that horse race from afar, for I am possessed of the knowledge of how to make a Mint Julep.

Made with Bourbon (along with swift-legged thoroughbreds, one of Kentucky's greatest exports), the Julep is the best and sweetest official tipple of horse racing's Triple Crown. Begin far ahead of time by making simple syrup, which, as the name implies, is simple. Boil one part water with two parts sugar until it has a syrupy substance. Make more than you think you will need—it will keep in the refrigerator. In a tall glass (or an official silver julep cup, if you have one) muddle a few mint leaves at the bottom with a dash of water, being careful not to over-bruise, as that will turn the mint bitter. Put a tablespoon of syrup on top and fill the glass with crushed ice, then pour in fine Bourbon almost to the top. Garnish with more mint leaves. This is one cocktail for which I approve a straw (make it short) as it puts your face right in the cup, where you will inhale the mint fumes. Drink slowly. It's sweet, but potent.

A word on Bourbon: don't be a piker. The drink needs formidable spirits to stand up to all that sweetness. I recommend Jim Beam on the Black Label level or the distillery's Knob Creek selection. All of the 101-proof Wild Turkeys work well. The softness of Maker's Mark is welcoming to the uninitiated. Brown-Forman's Woodford Reserve maintains the racing theme, but Old Forester is also up to the call. From Heaven Hill, Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage makes for nice variety. Jefferson's Reserve adds a pleasant raisin-like note to the mix. The best choices out of the Buffalo Trace distillery are Eagle Rare and any by Old Rip Van Winkle.

Don't try them all in one sitting, and if you do, call a cabbie. If you tip exorbitantly, maybe he'll call you Colonel.