The 141st racing of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday guarantees the weekend will be awash in funky hats and Mint Juleps. But we’re not here to discuss questionable wardrobe choices. The official cocktail of the world’s most famous horse race is a straightforward mashup of bourbon, mint, and simple syrup, traditionally served in a silver cup on crushed ice. It’s refreshing, easy to make, and deserves recognition beyond the one day of the year when everyone is Googling its recipe. Of course the quality of the drink is directly proportional to the horsepower of the bourbon used at its core. And there’s one whiskey in particular that packs more mustard than a thoroughbred in the home stretch: Maker’s Mark Cask Strength. If you want to add a jolt to your Julep, consider this bourbon as a base.
When whiskey comes out of the barrel after years of aging, it typically clocks in at upwards of 60 percent alcohol. Traditionally that percentage has been ‘proofed down’ to a more manageable 40 (80 proof) before the juice hits the bottle. Only in recent years has the bourbon market seen the proliferation of cask strength releases, which are kept at the very same proof at which they left the wood. Maker’s Mark unveiled its own last year to considerable fanfare. Although it hovers between 108 and 114 proof, Maker’s Cask Strength remains as endearingly drinkable as its 80 proof counterpart. There is the trademark sweetness of the brand, courtesy of its wheated mash bill, and a subtle heated spice picks up before the finish line.
Although a bourbon enthusiast will be happy to drink Maker’s Cask Strength neat, or perhaps with a drop or two of water to enhance its wheated characteristics (and proof it down to taste), it plays surprisingly well in a mint julep.
Bottles, which look deceptively like original Maker’s, retail for around $40, and they’ve recently been spotted on the shelf at Astor Wines and Winfield Flynn, as well as countless bottle shops across Brooklyn.
If you’re planning to order the classic Kentucky cocktail at a bar, head to the Flatiron Room in Manhattan or Char No. 4 in Cobble Hill; both places keep Cask Strength on heavy rotation. If you’re fixing a drink for friends and family, make sure you gently slap the mint prior to mixing to maximize its aromas.
And don’t be afraid to drink this cocktail throughout the summer months. They call the Derby the fastest two minutes in sports, but julep season ought to last far longer than that.