05/06/2011 06:13 pm ET Updated Jul 06, 2011

The Ultimate Mint Julep Celebrates the Kentucky Derby

The mint julep rules as the official Kentucky Derby cocktail. Versions of juleps at the Derby range from an exclusive offering of 103 cups of $1000 Woodford Reserve Mint Julep, served in a private Club House lounge, to over 170,000 premixed Early Times Mint Juleps hawked throughout Churchill Downs over the Kentucky Oaks and Derby days.

Chris Morris, Woodford Reserve's master distiller, knows his way around a mint julep and shares his ultimate recipe -- where every sip is a freshly made drink. "I believe in making mint juleps the old fashioned way, which is one at a time. Don't rush, it's like making a fine drink, it takes a couple of minutes but is well worth the time spent. The key to the perfect mint julep is to make it the way you want it to taste. We all have different tastes, some folks like a lot of mint, some folks don't," says Morris.

To craft a Kentucky Derby style mint julep, you'll need:

  • Mint julep cup
  • 1 to 3 sprigs fresh spearmint, plus a small sprig for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon powdered sugar, or to taste
  • Fine crushed or shaved ice, like snow
  • 1 ½ to 2 ounce measure of Woodford Reserve bourbon
  • A sipping straw

To make the mint julep:

In the bottom of the julep cup, moisten the mint sprigs and the sugar with a little splash of Woodford Reserve, then muddle, which is simply bruising the mint. "If you're using a traditional pewter or sterling julep cup, you want to muddle with a wooden muddler, so you won't scratch your cup," says Morris.

Muddle the mint, breaking the mint and making sure the sugar is dissolved. Morris advises to spread the mint-sugar mixture evenly across the bottom of the cup.

"Once you've spread it, set your straw, you need a sipping straw to enjoy a mint julep, it's not like a traditional bourbon cocktail where you are sipping with your lips," says Morris. Set the straw and then fill the cup three-quarters full of finely crushed or shaved ice, like snow, around the straw.

Add a full measure of bourbon -- an ounce and a half to two ounces. Woodford Reserve weighs less than ice, it's less dense so the bourbon is suspended in that loose ice. Finish filling the cup with more ice, making a little mound. Put the garnish, a little sprig of mint, right next to the straw.

"Now for the best part," Morris says. "You get to sip on the straw, as you sip you pull the Woodford through the ice, it mingles with that mint and sugar base and up the straw it goes. Every sip is its own fresh drink."