Wednesday, April 25, 2012

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Cinco de Derby

Pool season is creeping up on us. Party invitations are starting to trickle in. Haven't thought at all about what to wear, but I'm already planning out the drinks menus — and polishing my drinking silver. One of the first harbingers of San Diego's pool season is Cinco de Mayo. This year, it falls on Derby Day, a holiday lesser-observed in these coastal environs, but dear to my own heart. The confluence of the two form a sort of Cinco de Derby that only happens once every few years.

¡Viva la Revolución, y'all!
Now, Derby Day — for our friends beyond the shores of these United States — is the final day of the two-week Kentucky Derby Festival held in Louisville, Kentucky every year. It is the day on which the Kentucky Derby is held and when a great deal of money changes hands depending on whose pony is fastest. One is apt to see enormous hats on the women, much linen and seersucker on the men, and enormous quantities of bourbon consumed by each.

Cinco de Mayo, as it's observed in the US, is a sort of general celebration of Mexican heritage; it is not, as many would have you believe, the Mexican Independence Day. Rather, it's a commemoration of the French army's defeat at the hands of the Mexicans at Puebla in the latter part of the nineteenth century.

And this year, they each fall on Saturday, May 5th. At Derby Day parties throughout the country, a galling number of execrable mint juleps will be downed (and sometimes hauled back into the light of day) and inordinate amounts of tequila will be shot into (and out of) the drinking pubic. May 6th might as well be I'm Never Drinking Tequila Again Day.

Let' us leave behind the overdrinking occasioned by both and bind the holidays with a slightly more civilized glue: the tequila julep.
Tequila Julep

2 oz reposado or añejo tequila
1 Tbl agave nectar OR 1-2 tsp rich simple sugar (made with 2 parts demerara sugar to 1 of water)
10-12 spearmint leaves, stripped from their stems
Sprig of mint
Crushed ice

Muddle the mint gently with the syrup in the base of a julep cup or a short tumbler. Add the tequila and stir to combine. Top with crushed ice to fill the cup and form a short dome over the rim. Spank the mint against the palm or back of one hand (to help release its aroma), then insert the sprig through the ice into the drink. If using metal julep cups, allow the drink to rest undisturbed until its exterior is well frosted.

Serve either with short metal straws or plastic straws that have been trimmed to just an inch or so longer than the cup is tall — the idea is that drinkers will have to bury their noses in the fresh leaves while drinking and thus get a extra wallop of mint aroma.
You're on your own for anything after the first.

Goes well with:
  • The Maine Julep, Irvin S. Cobb's derisive, Kentuckicentric tirade against what passes for a julep in points north, including a "crowning atrocity" of allspice.


Anonymous said...

"...and inordinate amounts of tequila will be shot into (and out of) the drinking pubic."

Say what? : )

Matthew Rowley said...

Yeah, looking back on that, perhaps my word choice was not the most clear. I referred not to body shots or some Tosh.0 unmentionable spray, but to involuntary regurgitation following an overindulgence of that dew of Jallisco, that fruitage of the perfectly roasted and pressed agave, tequila.

Anonymous said...

We too have a Cince de Derby celebration (our 7th Derby party, but only 2nd Cinco de Derby)...I will be stealing your tequila julep recipe!

Matthew Rowley said...

By all means, do. I make juleps a few different ways, so feel free to experiment with proportions and technique. The first julep recipe I learned back when I was in undergraduate school (gotta love a Missouri upbringing) involved making a mint syrup beforehand. I still use that technique occasionally, but heating fresh mint in hot syrup drives off some of its ephemeral tastes. One could do that quite easily, though, in a tequila julep with some other flavoring. For instance, make a 2:1 syrup flavored not with mint, but with red chiles jalapenos; the sweetness and heat play off each other well in the presence of tequila.

Another way to build the cup (if using a syrup) is to pack it with crushed ice, then pour over the syrup, then more ice, then the spirit, then more ice, and then to garnish as you see fit. In the above example, rosemary (bear with me) would not be a horrible choice, although it results in a drink that seems more at home in ancient Rome than at Churchill Downs.

Have a great time at your conjoined party!

Gabriel R said...

I really enjoy your blog. I'm going to have to try this tequila julep come Derby Day! If you're interested I just posted a real simple Ale-8-One mint julep recipe over on my blog. Best new name for it in the comments gets you a free bottle of MB Rolland Kentucky Mint Julep Liqueur.

Matthew Rowley said...

Gabriel ~

Did you survive 5 de Mayo? We did, though several friends regretted scheduling meetings early on the 6th...

Been reading through your blog. How can I not appreciate the tagline "adventures in alcoholic fermentation at a dry private christian college"? Keep up the good (and wet) work!