Early May. Spring Time. Kentucky Derby. Whether your thoughts are on a derby party, sitting and relaxing in the warm weather with a cool cocktail or looking for a go to summer bourbon drink when it’s hot, the mint julep is the way to go (see the Derby party post by Bourbon and Banter contributor Erin Petry or get some great mint julep recipes from contributor Thomas Fondano).
Now, I have had some good mint juleps. Most notably, one made by New Orleans bartender Abigail Gullo of Compere Lapin Restaurant and formerly of Sobou, who in 2016 won the Bartender of the Year award, in a contest sponsored by Heaven Hill Distillery in Puerto Rico. The best mint julep I ever had, however, was made by my Uncle Doyle.
Uncle Doyle, about 85 now, is one of the most energetic people I know. Still going, maybe slowing down a little. He has always been up for a party. I remember my Mom telling me that on a cruise, some years ago, he took the “create a martini” class and could usually be found at the martini bar. As a kid, I recall that when Uncle Doyle came over, my Dad always had Carling Black Label beer on hand. As I got to the beer drinking age, I remember thinking, “Really.” That was until I went to a blind beer tasting party where Carling Black Label was voted the best beer. There were some really good beers at that party, over 20 (this was way before the craft beer boom).
I recall another time, around 2004, can’t remember exactly, at my brother’s wedding reception, my wife, Patti and I were on the dance floor, “cutting the rug,” so to speak. Happens sometime. Everyone started clearing the floor, except for one other couple, Uncle Doyle, and Aunt Barbara. The four of us left to a big round of applause. Uncle Doyle is the one who can “cut the rug.”
You ask, however, “What about the Mint Julep?”
My nephew got married back in 2008 or 2009. I’m a little fuzzy on the date. The wedding was at Ski Liberty, on the Fourth of July weekend. Ski Liberty is located just over the Pennsylvania border from Emmitsburg, MD. There is a hotel there, and they do some events like weddings, and meetings.
Patti and I arrived at the hotel a few hours before the wedding, having spent the day visiting and playing golf with friends who lived just down the road. When we arrived, it appeared the party was in full swing; the hotel was full of wedding guests. Just off the lobby, we ran into Uncle Doyle.
“Do you all want a mint julep?”
Well of course we did, and so we followed Uncle Doyle into his room and then into the bathroom (that’s right), where he had his mint julep mixing station set up. No, it wasn’t fancy. Ice from the hotel ice machine, Makers Mark bourbon, some type of julep mix…. and mint leaves. No fancy julep cups here, but he did have some nice glasses with him.
The recipe? Ice into the glass, a generous pour of Makers, some bottle julep mix, and some loose mint leaves. It was tasty and went down smooth and fast. So we spent the time before the wedding drinking Uncle Doyle’s mint juleps and talking bourbon. Needless to say, it was a fun wedding.
A few months after that, I got Uncle Doyle a bottle of Buffalo Trace as a present. The next time I saw him, he thanked me and said, “You know that Buffalo Trace, that’s a sippin’ bourbon.” That’s Uncle Doyle, Carling Black Label and mint juleps made in a makeshift bar. Nothing fancy just plain good.
When the Kentucky Derby comes around, and the julep talk starts, I always think of Uncle Doyle.
And the best mint julep I have ever tasted.