The only thing that a Tipsy Texan loves more than a Booze Holiday is two Booze Holidays – especially when they land on the same weekend, in what we might call a Double Header. Derby Day is always the first Saturday in May. This year it is followed immediately by Cinco de Mayo.
A Booze Holiday is something that is not easily defined, but can be identified by any combination of these characteristics:
- Lots of booze. Preferably being consumed liberally in the outdoors; public sidewalks and streets are a plus.
- It must be a holiday that is widely recognized by the general public
- It helps if the Booze Holiday has an official drink or drinks.
- Though it is not mandatory, the best booze holidays are the ones with religious, ethnic, or national significance that is either not known or is completely misunderstood by the celebrants. With such holidays, the booze is the reason for the season. Mardi Gras, St Patrick’s Day, and Bastille Day are perfect examples. Ask a tequila-swilling Texan why they are celebrating Cinco de Mayo, and most will wrongly answer that it is Mexican Independence Day.
- Lastly, you know it is a Booze Holiday when the major corporate liquor and beer companies create promotional materials and specials that have absolutely no connection to the holiday being celebrated, except for the fact that booze is involved. For example, you would expect to see Irish beer and whiskey flowing through the streets on St Patrick’s Day, but at this year’s Fado St Patrick’s Day tent in Austin, much of the beer was from the craftsmen at Anheuser Busch, and the booze being featured included: Smirnoff Rootbeer Float Vodka, Smirnoff Lite (LITE!!!!) Mango Sorbet Vodka, and for the Mexican leprechauns among us, a little Jose Cuervo. The only connection an artificially flavored American vodka has with St Patrick’s Day is the color green, as in, all the cash money that was paid for the placement.
Derby Day qualifies as a Booze Holiday because although there is a horse race involved, the main event lasts less than three minutes – but the party lasts all day. Many of the people swilling Mint Juleps till they stumble couldn’t tell you the difference between place and show, but at least they have their priorities straight. This is why we present to you the Tipsy Texan Guide to Derby Day.
Forget for now the crushing of mint and pretty silver cups. That ritual finery is lovely for making onesey-twosey Mint Juleps for sipping on the veranda. Derby Day juleps are about quantity. You need to make a big ass batch of mint syrup — make a pot of simple syrup on the stove, and as soon as the syrup is hot enough for the sugar to dissolve fully, turn off the heat and submerge into the syrup a bunch of mint, a big handful of sprigs for each cup of syrup. Allow to infuse. I prefer to do it off the heat as I think it imparts a brighter mint flavor. Once the syrup tastes adequately minty, strain out the solids and allow to cool.
You will combine this syrup with good bourbon. You don’t have to use your finest pour, but don’t fuck it up and use some cheap blended whiskey or, godforbid, something from Canada. I generally prefer a ratio of about 4:1 Bourbon to mint syrup. It’s a southern drink and it’s served over crushed ice for dilution, don’t be afraid to make it on the sweeter side. Make this batch in big pitchers, or depending on the size of your gathering, a bucket with a spigot. For our Derby Day party, we use the juice dispensers like you might see on nice hotel brunch buffet. Don’t underestimate the capacity for people to drink Mint Juleps on Derby Day.
For service, have an abundant quantity of crushed ice. You can buy this from some icehouses, or occasionally from places like Sonic or Which Wich, depending on where you live. Store the ice in a colander over a bowl so that it will drain off. Fill your cup with crushed ice, pour the julep mix over it. Top with crushed ice and a sprig of mint. It should be cold, refreshing, and yes, boozy. Then followed shortly after by another.
Derby Day Menu
There are infinite resources on the Web for traditional Derby Day foods, here is what we serve:
- Kentucky Hot Browns: sort of an open faced turkey sandwich. We take toasted bread, layer it with sliced turkey, cheesy Mornay sauce, crumbled bacon and tomato.
- Benedictine sandwiches: not Benedictine like the French liqueur, which would make a great julep but would probably suck on a sandwich. For the Derby, Benedictine is a cream cheese/ cucumber spread served on white bread in small finger sandwiches.
- Burgoo: a spicy stew that was traditionally made in KY and IN from whatever critters you could bring home. Nowadays we buy the ingredients at the store.
- Bourbon Bread Pudding