A Deke's Guide to the drink of the Kentucky Derby


May 5, 2007


DKE International Board Member Lin Hanson, Omicron '59, says, "When I stopped riding hunter/jumpers in my 40's, my interest in horses wained.  My interest in horsing around (and the stirrup cup) never seems to.  My favorite recipe for a julep, which I believe I picked up from a brother living in Georgia, hence the peach influence -- although Southern Illinois grows some of the finest peaches I've ever found -- is:


1 Bottle of Southern Comfort

Peach Schnapps

Fresh mint

Garnish with mint sprigs (optional)


To prepare mint extract, take fresh mint and remove the leaves smaller than a dime. Wash, pat dry put 40 leaves in mixing bowl and cover with 3 ounces of Bourbon. Allow the leaves to soak in bourbon for 15 minutes.


Gather leaves in bundle, put in clean cotton cloth and wring vigorously over bowl where leaves soaked -- bruising the leaves. Keep dipping in bourbon (several times) and wringing leaves so the juice of the mint is dripped back into bourbon. Let this mint extract set.


Pour the mint infused bourbon and a scant shot of peach schnops into a cocktail shaker filled with crushed ice, fill with more bourbon and shake until icy.  Pour into glasses filled with crushed ice, and garnish with a sprig of mint.


Hanson goes on to say, "Brother Bill Larned, Omicron '65, now residing in Glencoe, Ill. has a Derby party every year which is usually a dandy."


Burney Williams, Zeta Zeta '80, submitted his favorite Julep recipe, and it comes in the form of a letter, the makings of quite a story.  


March 30, 1917

My dear General Connor,


Your letter requesting my formula for mixing mint juleps leaves me in the same position in which Captain Barber found himself when asked how he was able to carve the image of an elephant from a block of wood. He replied that it was a simple process consisting merely of whittling off the part that didn't look like an elephant.


The preparation of the quintessence of gentlemanly beverages can be described only in like terms. A mint julep is not the product of a formula. It is a ceremony and must be performed by a gentleman possessing a true sense of the artistic, a deep reverence for the ingredients and a proper appreciation of the occasion. It is a rite that must not be entrusted to a novice, a statistician, nor a Yankee. It is a heritage of the old South, an emblem of hospitality and a vehicle in which noble minds can travel together upon the flower-strewn paths of happy and congenial thought.


So far as the mere mechanics of the operation are concerned, the procedure, stripped of its ceremonial embellishments, can be described as follows:


Go to a spring where cool, crystal-clear water bubbles from under a bank of dew-washed ferns. In a consecrated vessel, dip up a little water at the source. Follow the stream through its banks of green moss and wildflowers until it broadens and trickles through beds of mint growing in aromatic profusion and waving softly in the summer breezes. Gather the sweetest and tenderest shoots and gently carry them home. Go to the sideboard and select a decanter of Kentucky Bourbon, distilled by a master hand, mellowed with age yet still vigorous and inspiring. An ancestral sugar bowl, a row of silver goblets, some spoons and some ice and you are ready to start.


In a canvas bag, pound twice as much ice as you think you will need. Make it fine as snow, keep it dry and do not allow it to degenerate into slush.


In each goblet, put a slightly heaping teaspoonful of granulated sugar, barely cover this with spring water and slightly bruise one mint leaf into this, leaving the spoon in the goblet. Then pour elixir from the decanter until the goblets are about one-fourth full. Fill the goblets with snowy ice, sprinkling in a small amount of sugar as you fill. Wipe the outsides of the goblets dry and embellish copiously with mint.


Then comes the important and delicate operation of frosting. By proper manipulation of the spoon, the ingredients are circulated and blended until Nature, wishing to take a further hand and add another of its beautiful phenomena, encrusts the whole in a glittering coat of white frost. Thus harmoniously blended by the deft touches of a skilled hand, you have a beverage eminently appropriate for honorable men and beautiful women.


When all is ready, assemble your guests on the porch or in the garden, where the aroma of the juleps will rise Heavenward and make the birds sing. Propose a worthy toast, raise the goblet to your lips, bury your nose in the mint, inhale a deep breath of its fragrance and sip the nectar of the gods.


Being overcome by thirst, I can write no further.


S.B. Buckner, Jr.

V.M.I. Class of 1906


Searching the web for other good options, it appears the University of the South, home to DKE's Tau Delta chapter, has a veritable recipe book compiled by Gibbons Burke.  And while Mr. Burke is not a Deke, his options are too good to not include.  If Brother Hanson's recipe doesn't entice you, perhaps some of these will.  Enjoy the weekend and the 133rd Run for the Roses.


Mint Julep Recipes



Did you know that George Steinbrenner, Epsilon '52, who has owned and bred horses for more than 30 years, owned "Bellamy Road" (pictured above), the horse favored to win the 2005 Derby?  Trained by prolific Brooklyn horse trainer Nick Zito, "Bellamy Road" finished the race in seventh place.  Giacomo won the 2005 Derby.


Compiled by Gibbons Burke


Included below are several recipes for mint juleps from various authorities, all of whom, as it happens, are alumni of The University of the South, my alma mater. The Percy autobiography cited below contains a chapter titled "Sewanee" about his days at the University. The information below was assembled from the proceedings of the Alumni-Talk mailing list of Sewanee graduates.

The choice of brand seems as important as the other ingredients, and passions run heavy on this issue. Louis Rice favors Maker's Mark for the Jim Beam julep recipe. Mr. Will Percy's only requirement is that the quality be "excellent". Barry Bean liberally encourages the use of one's favorite.


Another Sewanee alumnus, Steverson Moffat, writes "Andrew Lytle's brand of choice (in his latter years, at least) was Old Weller. He usually opted for the older version (I cannot recall if that is 7 or 12 years) sipped neat on ice from silver julep cups."


For an interesting account of one family's worship at the Julep alter, see a web site devoted to "The Buckner Mint Julep Ceremony." The prose of the original recipe was florid and as luscious as the drink it produces, and the history of how this recipe came to be served to president Franklin Delano Roosevelt is well documented.



A Mississippi Planter's Julep


By William Alexander Percy


[From "A Small Boy's Heroes", Lanterns on the Levee, the autobiography of William Alexander Percy  (Louisiana State University Press, 1988)]


Father and General Catchins and Captain McNeilly and Captain Wat Stone and Mr. Everman would forgather every so often on our front gallery. These meeting must habitually have taken place in summer, because I remember Mother would be in white, looking very pretty, and would immediately set about making a mint julep for the gentlemen - no hors d'oeuvres, no sandwiches, no


Did you know that David McArthur, 

Psi Phi '92, is the morning anchor for Louisville's NBC affiliate, WAVE?  David covers Derby week every year, from the Kentucky Oaks, run the Friday before the Derby, to the Derby itself.  A native of Chicago, with deep loyalties to the Cubs and Bears, McArthur also serves as president of the DePauw Deke Realty Association (DDRA).  Although the Psi Phi chapter closed in 1996, in its 130th year, the DDRA, expanded to include alumni from DKE's Delta Psi chapter at Indiana University, now serves as the alumni association supporting Delta Psi. McArthur started his reporting career in Owensboro, Kentucky, then moved to WTTW in Evansville, Indiana, then to Lexington's WKTY before finally planting his family roots at WAVE. His wife, Holly, is a Kentucky native and former producer for WAVE, and the couple has three sons, marked with a stencil plate, one D, one K, and one E.


 cocktails, just a mint julep. After the first long swallow - really a slow and noiseless suck, because the thick crushed ice comes against your teeth and the ice must be kept out and the liquor let in - Cap Mac would say: "Very fine, Camille, you make the best julep in the world." She probably did. Certainly her juleps had nothing in common with those hybrid concoctions one buys in bars the world over under that name. It would have been sacrilege to add lemon, or a slice of orange or of pineapple, or one of these wretched maraschino cherries.


First you needed excellent bourbon whisky; rye or Scotch would not do at all. Then you put half an inch of sugar in the bottom of the glass and merely dampened it with water. Next, very quickly - and here is the trick in the procedure - you crushed your ice, actually powdered it, preferably in a towel with a wooden mallet, so quickly that it remained dry, and slipping two sprigs of fresh mint against the inside of the glass, you crammed the ice in right to the brim, packing it with your hand. Last you filled the glass, which apparently had no room left for anything else, with bourbon, the older the better, and grated a bit of nutmeg on the top.


The glass immediately frosted and you settled back in your chair for a half an hour of sedate cumulative bliss. Although you stirred the sugar at the bottom, it never all melted, therefore at the end of the half hour there was left a delicious mess of ice and mint and whisky which a small boy was allowed to consume with calm rapture. Probably the anticipation of this phase of a julep was what held me on the outskirts of these meetings rather than the excitement of the discussion, which often I did not understand.



Jim Beam's Mint Julep


By Louis Rice


The following recipe for Mint Juleps was given to me by Booker Noe, Jim Beam's grandson. It produces juleps on par with the recipe given to me by Bill Samuels of Maker's Mark, but it is much less labor intensive.


There are six essential ingredients for a proper mint julep:

  • good 90 proof bourbon whisky (I prefer Maker's Mark),

  • sugar,

  • fresh mint leaves,

  • metal cups (preferably silver),

  • short straws, and

  • shaved ice (the kind snow cones are made with).

Once these accouterment have been assembled, you are ready to proceed.


You cannot make just one mint julep and have it taste worth a damn. You must make them in batches. What follows is a recipe for one quart and change. Multiply accordingly for a big party.


Pick a bunch (enough to fill a quart-size bowl) of dime to quarter sized mint leaves - but no stems; they're bitter. Wash the leaves and pat dry.



Did you know that Craig Duchossois, Tau Lambda '66, was elected last year to a three-year term on the Churchill Downs Inc. Board of Directors?  Craig is CEO and director of Elmhurst, Illinois-based Duchossois Industries Inc.  He also is chairman of The Chamberlain Group Inc.; chairman, Thrall Car Management Co. Inc.; director, Trinity Industries Inc., LaSalle National Bank, Culver Educational Foundation, University of Chicago, University of Chicago Hospitals, Illinois Institute of Technology, Kellogg Graduate School of Management, World Business Chicago and AMX LLC.


Now prepare some simple syrup by combining two cups sugar to one cup water in a saucepan and heating over medium heat until it turns crystal clear. Do not let it boil, which causes the sugar to caramelize and ruins the whole wretched mess. Pour the simple syrup over the mint leaves in the bowl and let it steep like tea for 10-15 minutes (longer can't hurt).


Now you're ready to make julep. Pour a quart of whisky into a non-plastic container that holds more than a quart. Add four ounces of mint flavored simple syrup to the quart of whisky, and stir well. Put the resulting mixture back into the whisky bottle, cap tightly, and refrigerate for 24 hours. (Since you've mixed a quart of whisky with four ounces of syrup, you'll have four ounces of julep that won't fit into the bottle. The obvious solution: drink it!)


Next day, pack a metal cup with shaved ice. Cut a plastic straw so that the end extends no more than two inches above the rim of the cup. Shove the straw down into the shaved ice, and fill the cup with julep. Remove the straw and place a large sprig of mint in the hole where the straw was. (You won't be able to get the mint through the ice otherwise.) Replace the straw, sip and enjoy. Your nose should be right down in the mint leaves for full enjoyment. Be sure to put a cocktail napkin around the cup, because it will soon be too cold to hold.


The mixed up julep can be refrigerated for up to a year, and the syrup can be refrigerated for three or four months.



A Missouri Cotton Planter's recipe


By B. B. Bean
Peach Orchard, Missouri


Stuff a quart jar full of mint leaves. Add a shot or two of your favorite brandy, and fill the rest of the way with your favorite bourbon or table whisky. Refrigerate for 5 days, turning the jar over once a day.


On the 6th day, pour 1/4" of sugar in the bottom of your julep cup, bruise two mint leaves into the sugar, fill with crushed ice, and strain the julep into the glass. Stick a sprig of mint in the ice, and enjoy. Straw optional.


My mother's family prepares their juleps very differently. They mix a shot of water, tablespoon of sugar, and the juice of an orange quarter together, bruise mint around the interior of the glass, layer a few mint leaves in the ice, along with a thin slice of orange, and pour bourbon over the mix.





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