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Food and Wine

Champagne Mint Juleps for Kentucky Derby Day

Watch the Kentucky Derby coming up May 5 without a mint julep? Fiddle-dee-dee! Taking in the equine thriller nicked named “The Run for the Roses” wouldn’t be the same without the Southern-accented cocktail, but that doesn’t mean it has to be old hat.

The famed horse racing event which takes place the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky originated with Meriwether Lewis Clark, grandson of William Clark of the Lewis and Clark explorer team. In 1872, Clark (the grandson) attended the Epsom Derby on a visit to England. The experience inspired him to organize a similar horse racing event in the U.S. With the help of his uncles, John and Henry Churchill, who donated land for the cause, he built a permanent racetrack in Louisville. In 1875, the very first Kentucky Derby took place drawing a crowd of 10,000 to watch 15 thoroughbred horses compete in a one and a half-mile race. The event has continued annually until this day.

For almost the last 100 years of the Derby’s 144-year history, mint juleps made with Kentucky bourbon whiskey have been a tradition at the race. While a classic julep is made with just bourbon, mint, sugar and water, we prefer a modern version with a floral, effervescent spin. If you’re not one of the expected 150,000 fans at Churchill Downs May 5, you can catch the race on TV. NBC will air coverage beginning at 2:30 pm Eastern Standard Time; post time is scheduled for 6:43 ET. Toast the winner with this recipe for mint juleps:

Champagne Mint Julep

Directions per cocktail:

2 ounces Kentucky bourbon, such as Makers Mark

½ ounce elderflower liqueur, such as St. Germain

Fresh mint leaves

Champagne or sparkling white wine

Add all ingredients except champagne to a julep cup or glass.

Gently muddle mint to express the oils (Crush with a bartender’s muddler or the back of a spoon.)

Add crushed ice.

Top with champagne or sparkling white wine.

Garnish with a mint sprig.

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