The Kentucky Derby: Mint Julep
Race Day: May 4, 2019 (First Saturday in May)
Signature Flower: Red Rose
The record of 1:59 2/5 for the fastest Kentucky Derby ever was set in 1973 by the mighty Secretariat. He broke last out of the gate and languished at 11th place in a field of 13 until firing up his afterburners to blow by the field from the outside and crash through the 2-minute barrier.
1 quart limestone water (see “Author’s Note” below) 2 long stems fresh-picked peppermint 2 teaspoons organic powdered sugar 6 ounces bourbon (Buffalo Trace, Four Roses, and Wild Turkey are distilled from 100 percent organic non-GMO corn)
You will also need:
2 silver or copper julep cups Lewis bag (or a clean, old pillowcase) Wooden mallet 2 straws, each 2 inches taller than the julep cups
The day before, pour the limestone water into a large plastic storage container and freeze it overnight.
The next day, cut the stems of mint so that the tops are just 1 inch taller than the julep cups. Pluck 8 leaves from the bottom of the stems, and place 4 leaves in the bottom of each julep cup.
Add 1 teaspoon powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon bourbon to each cup. Use a muddler (or iced tea spoon) to mix the sugar and bourbon together, gently bruising, but not crushing the mint. Remove the bruised mint leaves.
Take the ice block from the freezer, put it in a Lewis bag (or clean pillowcase), and smash it to smithereens with the wooden mallet. Heap the chipped ice into the julep cups so that it slightly mounds above the rim. Stick one stem of mint into each cup so that it nestles on top of the ice and place a straw in each.
Divide the rest of the bourbon between the two cups, pouring it slowly so that it trickles through the ice. Then, wait 3 minutes or so, until beads of condensation form on the outside of the cups, and the melting limestone ice water welcomes the bourbon and mint as a parent welcomes prodigal children, and all form a harmonious union.
To drink, bury your nose in the mint, bring the straw to your lips, breathe in the mint, and sip.
The Preakness: Black-Eyed Susan
Race Day: May 18, 2019 (Third Saturday in May)
Signature Flower: Black-Eyed Susan
Secretariat gobbled up the Preakness distance of 1 3/16 miles in 1:53 flat, a record that remains unbroken. The official time of 1:54 2/5—hotly contested by esteemed independent clockers even at that time—was later proven beyond a doubt to be an electronic timer malfunction. In 2012, after verifying results with state-of-the art technology, the Maryland Racing Commission voted 7-0 to amend the official time.
4 ounces pineapple juice 2 ounces Maryland rye whiskey (I like Sagamore Spirit) 2 ounces white rum 4 ounces freshly squeezed orange juice 2 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice 1/4 cup organic sugar 1 tablespoon orange liqueur 2 tablespoons black rum, to float
You will also need:
2 tall Collins or iced tea glasses
Starfruit slices and blackberries, for garnish
This is my fresh take on this cocktail, which typically relies on bourbon, vodka, and sweet-and-sour mix. First, we’ll pay homage to Maryland’s signature spirit, rye whiskey, by subbing it in for the bourbon and to the Chesapeake Bay rumrunners of yore by replacing the flavor-neutral vodka with fruit-friendly rum. Next, we’ll ditch the sweet-and-sour mix for fresh fruit juices and an organic sugar syrup.
Combine the sugar with 2 tablespoons water in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Chill.
Add all ingredients except the black rum to a pitcher and stir to combine. Fill two tall glasses with ice. Pour half of the drink mixture into each glass. To float black rum on top, pour it over the back of a bar spoon held just above the surface of the drink. Pin a blackberry to the center of two thin starfruit slices with a toothpick and float it atop the finished cocktail.
The Belmont Stakes: Belmont Jewel
Race Day: June 8, 2019 (Third Saturday after the Preakness) Signature Flower: White Carnation
To my mind, the greatest single sports photo of all time is that of jockey Ron Turcotte astride Secretariat in the Belmont’s homestretch, looking back over his shoulder at the teensy ant-like swarm of horses 31 lengths and more behind him. “Big Red” floated over the punishing 1 1/2-mile course in a historic 2:24 flat, smashing the Belmont Stakes record, the Belmont track record, and the world record on dirt—all which still stand today.
1/4 cup organic sugar 4 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice 3 ounces bourbon 2 ounces pomegranate juice
You will also need:
2 rocks glasses Cubed ice Lemon, for garnish
The course of the official Belmont Stakes cocktail has been a circuitous one, fraught with a farrago of missteps. First came the White Carnation, a creamsicle-like concoction that was bucked off to make way for the 1998 introduction of the Belmont Breeze, an overly ambitious, fruity bourbon-and-sherry-laced drink. In 2011, the Belmont Jewel, an elegantly simple bourbon-infused pomegranate lemonade, vanquished all other contenders as soundly as did Big Red himself, becoming the official cocktail of the Belmont Stakes.
Combine the sugar with 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Cool to room temperature, stir in lemon juice, and chill before using.
Cut both ends off a lemon and down one side from top to bottom. Use a spoon or melon baller to remove all of the interior pulp. Roll up the lemon peel as tightly as you can and secure both ends with toothpicks. Submerge in ice water for at least an hour and up to overnight. Cut thin slices from the rolled-up peel to create lemon corkscrews.
Combine the lemonade with the bourbon and pomegranate juice in a cocktail shaker with about 1 cup of ice cubes in it. Shake vigorously, then strain into two rocks glasses filled with ice cubes. To garnish, dangle a lemon corkscrew over the edge of the glass.
Author’s Note: I staunchly side with those who insist that the velvety-smooth, calcium-fortified limestone spring water—the water that gives bourbon life and Kentucky thoroughbreds their strong bones—is as integral to a mint julep as are the bourbon and handpicked fresh mint. Happily, for those of us who cannot make a quick run to the Bluegrass State for limestone spring water to make julep ice, you can—yep, you guessed it—buy “Old Limestone” Kentucky limestone water online (oldlimestone.com).