In honor of The Kentucky Derby, this Thirsty Thursday post is all about the big hats, the horses to watch, and getting a little bourbon in your blood!
Do you remember that scene in the My Fair Lady 1964 featuring Audrey Hepburn, where she get’s dressed up to go to the races? Given that this movie was depicting a time during the late Victorian era and early Edwardian era, it was common place for the high-class ladies and gentlemen to wear their “morning dress attire”.
From the beginning in 1872 fashion would always be an important part of the Kentucky Derby. Though races were a mainstay for British and French society, American women at the time might have hesitated to stay away from horse racing, and the gambling and drinking that went along with it. In founding what is the largest American Equestrian event today, Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr and his wife enlisted the ladies of Louisville to attend the races to picnic with friends. They knew that part of creating allure for the event would be positioning it as a fashion event — so the dress code required “full morning dress” for men and women from the start.
The picnicking women therefore wore hats and gloves with their dresses. And though the attire has evolved somewhat throughout the decades, the hats have remained a constant. By the 1920s, though the daytime Kentucky event didn’t attract much of the flapper style for which the era is remembered, the ladies could choose between formal suits or dresses to go with a range of fashionable hat styles.
In the 1960s, attendance and fashion rules relaxed a bit across the nation, and at the racetracks. As hats receded from the category of everyday clothing, the crucial change occurred: people who didn’t wear hats all the time were more likely to use the excuse to wear something extreme, with bigger brims and bolder hues. Going all out became a way to gain attention and admiration.
Since then, the hats have become fodder for chatter and style watches alike. The Kentucky Derby website claims that the fashion at the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton renewed enthusiasm about hats, fascinators and headpieces that defy categorization.
This year marks the 143rd time people will arrive at Churchill Downs under the weight and shade of their derby hats—but even Col. Clark himself could not have guessed how important the headwear itself would become to spectators of a horse race.
Speaking of horse race, this Kentucky Derby week has been relatively uneventful. The race is as wide-open as any Derby in recent memory, with even leading contenders bringing big question marks to the race and a morning line favorite at a generous 4-1. personally I don’t watch the races to game, but if you enjoy throwing a little money down make sure to check out the odds at https://www.kentuckyderby.com/.
So after the hats and the horses have been chosen, head to the kitchen to start the day off right with a well-made mint julep. Yes, I said start in the morning! That means a brunch julep or even perhaps one for breakfast. In the South, where the julep originated, it was often a drink taken upon rising from bed, before going out to meet the day.
But a proper julep isn’t just your run of the mill cocktail. A bottled pre-mix isn’t the way to go here. Today, I give you a few tips for a proper julep, but first, as a refresher course, let’s review the basic procedure:
- Add sugar and water (or simple syrup) to a glass or julep cup such as this. You can buy a set at Target for $44.
- Add mint and lightly muddle, being sure to swab the sides of the glass with mint. A sprig of fresh mint should only cost about $3 at the grocery store.
3.Fill glass half full with crushed ice.
4.Add bourbon (Woodford Reserve Bourbon) and stir. Add more crushed ice and stir again, until the glass frosts up.
5.Garnish with a bouquet of fresh mint. And Sip!
The julep is a drink to sip slowly. As the ice melts into the drink, it not only dilutes but further chills the beverage, resulting in a cocktail that only gets more refreshing as you enjoy it. But note the word “dilutes.” As the ice melts, the bourbon dilutes. Start with a good, strong bourbon.
You don’t need to go with bourbon, of course. You can use brandy or rye, for example, or even a good aged rum. But still, think about the proof level of the base spirit before you choose.
The trick with the mint is to have a gentle hand and not crush the leaves. It’s better to lightly bruise it, to release the minty oils; crushing it releases grassy and vegetal flavors, which can ruin a cocktail… yuck
Place a sprig into the palm of one hand. Using your other hand, slap the mint sharply, once or twice. Just slapping the mint will usually release enough of the oils for a cocktail. Rub the mint on the sides of the cup, and then leave it at the bottom of the glass.
Not everyone likes leaves in their cocktail. If you’d prefer to leave the leaves out, make a minty simple syrup, no more than one day ahead, so it tastes minty fresh. Take half a cup of sugar, half a cup of water, and 3/4 cups of packed mint leaves, and cook them together on a stove top until the sugar dissolves. Strain and refrigerate.
A proper julep depends on crushed ice. Be aware if you use a blender, they tend to be a little too efficient; some of the ice will completely melt, so be sure to drain the water off before you build your julep. You don’t want to water your drink down before it has time to properly chill, leaving you with an insipid julep.
No one likes an insipid julep…..
Another method is to place ice cubes in a plastic or canvas bag and then whale away at it with a mallet or rolling-pin. A canvas bag will wick away some of the moisture, whereas plastic will not. If you’re using plastic, drain the ice before using.
So with these tips, you should be able to make the best damn julep you’ve ever had. Just remember, though, it’s going to be a long day, so be sure to pace yourself, and have plenty of food and water on hand! And as always, please drink responsibly and enjoy the festivities!!!
Be Blessed XOXO