Your Video Guide to Making the Perfect Cocktail
{ and what to pair with it }
The Mint Julep
{ paired with lamb meatballs }

If you haven’t heard yet, the Mint Julep and the Kentucky Derby are inextricably linked. Well, since 1875, anyway. That’s when their marriage at Churchill Downs began, and since that year, the Mint Julep’s popularity (and one can go so far as to say celebrity) has no doubt benefited from its close association with the fastest two minutes in sports. Our close association with the Mint Julep began seven years ago when the two of us would sip them on a warm spring night on the terrace overlooking Brooklyn and Manhattan. One of our first terrace cocktail parties consisted of four friends and a dozen Mint Juleps among us. Needless to say the party ended when everyone’s speech was compromised. Lesson learned: one is enough. Although much of our view of Brooklyn has been obscured by overdevelopment (some of our view of Manhattan is threatened as well), our love of the Mint Julep will never fade. It’s one of our top five cocktails, and its slightly sweet, minty bourbon zing will keep us sipping until our last gallop around the track.

Lamb Meatballs { with Tzatziki }

The Greek call these keftedes. We call them delicious. When deciding on what to pair with the Mint Julep, we had two criteria after the obvious "taste good together": (1) something that is devoured in one small bite, and (2) something with unexpected flavor. These lamb meatballs get their kick from real Ceylon cinnamon, dried spearmint, lemony coriander seeds, and mild dried garlic. Served with a dollop of our version of a yogurt-and-cucumber-rich mediterranean condiment called tzatziki (or tsatziki if too many zees make your head spin), your palate will discover shifting flavor nuances the whole time you're standing at the hors d'oeuvres table sipping on your julep. Don't like the thought of dipping your meatballs in yogurt, plain works just as fine. Once again, you are the master of your palate.

The recipe:

2 ounces bourbon

1/4–1/2 oz. simple syrup

8 spearmint leaves

shaved or crushed ice

spearmint sprig

shaved or crushed ice

Muddle leaves gently in simple syrup in a julep cup or similar glass. Add bourbon, then shaved ice all the way up to the top. Stir. Garnish with a mint sprig. Toss in a straw, if desired.


BE GENTLE with your muddler. Don’t over-bruise the mint leaves as this will leave a bitter taste.

YOU CAN MIX peppermint and spearmint to create a Doublemint Julep.

What comprises a Mint Julep is simple: bourbon, sugar, spearmint, and lots of shaved ice. Simple as the list of ingredients is, a lot of thought and care go into making one of these glorious drinks. For you history buffs, the Mint Julep first appeared in print in a book by John Davis called Travels of Four Years and a Half in the United States of America. Published in London in 1803, it describes the Mint Julep as “a dram of spirituous liquor that has mint steeped in it, taken by Virginians of a morning.” The term “steeping” here has divided julep tipplers over the last two centuries. Traditionalists, whose sole use of mint is adding a sprig as an important olfactory garnish, would probably pooh-pooh any form of steeping, including the way we make ours, as we like to gently muddle mint leaves in the simple syrup before adding ice and bourbon. But we say, the more mint, the merrier. If you just want your nose to be tickled by the redolence of fresh mint as your lips touch the glass (or in some instances, a metal julep cup, which keeps the drink frosty cold), then we applaud your choice. If you want to double the amount and substitute pineapple mint, we applaud your choice as well. We find that solely living your life under the rubric of “Tradition,” although important to understand and learn from, can crush the spirit.


And speaking of spirits, the bourbon you choose is probably the most important aspect of the drink. (Yes, the drink must be made with bourbon, but if you want to buck tradition and use rye, we will support your endeavor. Canadian whisky? . . . now you’re pushing it. This is an American invention after all.) Bourbons range widely in flavor and proof. Try Jim Beam at 80 proof and see how that holds up to Buffalo Trace, whose proof is 90. Both work equally well, but you may want to adjust how much simple syrup and mint you put in. Remember, the choice is yours, gentle reader. The goal here is to sit back on the veranda, or terrace, or wherever it is you like to tipple on a warm spring day, and smell the mint as you sip to your heart’s content.

The recipe:


3/4 lb. ground lamb

1 medium egg, beaten

1/3 cup panko

1 stick real Ceylon cinnamon (you can substitute cassia)

1/2 T coriander seeds

1 tsp. dried spearmint

2 tsp.–1 T  dried chopped garlic

salt and pepper, to taste

1 T olive oil, grape-seed oil, or canola oil

Grind cinnamon, spearmint, garlic, and coriander seeds finely. Add lamb, egg, panko, and ground spices to a bowl. Mix thoroughly with your hands so that spices and egg blend evenly throughout the lamb.

Grab a bite-sized portion of meat and, with your palms, roll until meatball is round. Heat oil in a large skillet, then add meatballs. Spread them out so that they do not touch. Fry for three minutes, or until a nice char starts to develop, then flip (a teaspoon and a pair of tongs should do the trick). Fry for another 3 minutes. Remove from skillet. Serve with Tzatziki (see recipe, left).

Makes 4 dozen meatballs.


1 T olive oil

2 tsp. lemon juice

2 cups greek yogurt

2 cloves garlic

1/2 cup peeled cucumber, grated

Grate cucumber into a small bowl. Add garlic and mix together. In another, larger bowl, combine olive oil and lemon juice. Fold in yogurt, followed by cucumber–garlic mixture. Chill for 30 minutes.


Watch Steve make a springtime classic, the Mint Julep, and Paul some savory Lamb Meatballs with a Tzatziki, a Greek yogurt–cucumber dipping sauce.

(Click to play.)

{ If you cannot view the movie, you must download Quicktime. }

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The Mint Julep