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Saturday, April 22, 2017


It is the very dream of drinks, the vision of sweet quaffings. The Bourbon and the mint are lovers. In the same land they live, and on the same food they are fostered. The mint dips its infant leaf into the same stream that makes the bourbon what it is. The corn grows in the level lands through which small streams meander. By the brook-side the mint grows. As the little wavelets pass, they glide up to kiss the feet of the growing mint, the mint bends to salute them. Gracious and kind it is, living only for the sake of others. The crushing of it only makes it sweetness more apparent. Like a woman's heart, it gives its sweetest aroma when bruised. Among the first to greet the spring, it comes. Besides the gurgling brooks that makes it music in the pastures it lives and thrives.

 -J. Soule Smith, The Mint Julep: The Very Dream of Drinks, 1949.

Lush rolling pastures.
Painted planked fencing.
Thoroughbreds grazing at dawn

And free flowing bourbon.

The Bluegrass blooms during Derby season.

It's all about tradition.
Mint Julep
2 oz. Bourbon
1/2 oz. Simple Syrup
3 Fresh mint leaves
Crushed ice
Muddle fresh mint inside of the glass.
Add simple syrup, bourbon, and crushed ice.
Garnish with more ice and fresh mint.

Dripping with demure southern charm, our minty bourbon-spiked elixir captures the very essence of Derby day.  On the first Saturday in May, swept away in the swell of My Old Kentucky Home, we'll raise a toast with Mints Juleps and call the horses to the post for the 143 running of the Kentucky Derby.

While heavenly splashed over crushed ice, the perfect marriage of mint, sugar, and bourbon lends itself to a world of other possibilities. Break the rules and slap it on ribs for a boozy barbecue treat.

Eat, drink, be merry, and enjoy the ride.

Grilled Lamb Chops with Mint Julep Barbecue Sauce
When it comes to lamb, I'm totally old school about the traditional mint jelly accompaniment. It's nonnegotiable. While I've had my share of the minty green jellies from the market (thumbs up), I wanted bourbon-infused Mint Julep jelly for the base of the sauce. Why smear sauce on precious little lamb chops? Why not? Meat. Fire. Sauce. Win. Place. Show. Bet on it.

Simple Mint Julep Jelly.
Think about it. Mint. Julep. Jelly. Sticky bourbon candy.  I packed 1 1/2 cups fresh mint into a small sauce pan with 3 cups water, 1/4 cup Old Forester Bourbon, and 1 tablespoon lemon juice.. After bringing the water to a boil, I reduced the heat, simmered the mint for 20 minutes, strained the mint, and set the minted water aside. Using the same sauce pan, I brought 4 cups sugar, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2 cups of the reserved mint juice, and 3/4 cups Old Forester bourbon to a hard boil before adding a 3 ounce pouch of liquid pectin. When the gurgling mix came to a full rolling boil, I let it rip for 1 minute, skimmed the foam, filled  jelly jars with the molten hot jelly, and set them aside. When they were cool enough to handle, I screwed on the lids, and slid them into the refrigerator.

Getting Saucy.
Wanting to err on the lighter side of gloppy, I nixed the standard ketchup base and heated 2 cups tomato sauce, 2 tablespoons tomato paste, 1/4 cup Oberholtzer's  sorghum, 1 minced garlic clove, 1/4 cup grated onion, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 3 tablespoons worcestershire sauce, 2 teaspoons smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon onion powder, and 1 teaspoon garlic powder over a medium flame. After bringing the sauce to a boil, I reduced it to a simmer and added 3/4 cups of the reserved mint jelly. When the jelly melted into the sauce, I added a splash of bourbon to wake it up and  pulled it from the heat.

Lamb Pops.
Local Four Hills Farm lamb racks are gorgeous. Trimmed and frenched, their delicate nature belies their big meaty punch. Although I toyed with the notion of grilling a whole rack, I sliced a 1 1/2 pound rack into individual chops for optimum meat to sauce ratio. Better yet, when sliced, the exposed bones have built in handles for easy snacking. Drink in one hand, chop in the other. Perfect finger food.

To give the chops a savory head start, I brought them  to room temperature before rubbing them down with a simple mixture of  kosher salt, ground black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, cayenne, and ground coriander.

Quick Fire.
I fired up charcoal in a chimney, released the glowing coals into the base of a charcoal grill, and distributed the coals to create even heat before slapping the lamb chops onto the grill. After 2 minutes, I brushed them with the Mint Julep barbecue sauce and continued basting and flipping until the internal temperature reached 130 degrees for medium rare, about 4 minutes per side.

I pulled the lacquered chops from the grill and let them rest before finishing with flaked sea salt and scattered fresh mint. Because more is more, I slipped a small jar of Mint Julep jelly to the side for an extra bourbony sweet kick.

Derby Chops.

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