As I sat down to do some research on the Derby day’s classic cocktail the mint julep, I came across an interesting tidbit of information: mint juleps were initially meant to be made with cognac. Say what?
Being French, I feel like I *ought* to like Cognac, but I just can’t seem to get into it. It’s not for lack of trying… the French Embassy and l’Alliance Francaise frequently host cognac tasting, and if sipping it in the presence of Maurice-Richard Hennessy himself didn’t convert me, I don’t know what will. Many french people feels the same way I do about cognac whose sales were declining until hip-hop came to the rescue. In 2001, Busta Rhymes released “Pass the Courvoisier,” and Hennessy became the most mentioned liquor brand in rap music, according to Hennessy. Suddenly, the US became the biggest international market for cognac (China is catching up though…)
But back to the mint juleps. It’s a uniquely american cocktail made of mint, sugar, bourbon and ice. It’s been the official cocktail of the Kentucky Derby since 1938 but before the civil war made foreign products like cognac hard to come by in the south, mint juleps were made with cognac. So why not get back to the roots of mints julep with this French twist on the American cocktail.
Cognac is a variety of brandy, a distilled spirit made from fermented white grapes and aged for at least 2 years. For this cocktail a simple VS is good enough (VS = Very Special. Cognacs are labeled according to how long they’ve aged, with XO, extra old, being the good stuff.) In a shaker, muddle 8 sprigs of mint with 1 tsp of sugar and a little bit of water. Add 2 oz cognac and fill the shaker with shaved ice. Shake and pour unstrained in a glass. Garnish with extra mint.
Happy Derby Day!