The quintessential cocktail of the Kentucky Derby, the mint julep, is a mashup of bourbon, mint and sugar. A typical recipe for making one begins “muddle the mint leaves and sugar in the bottom of the glass,” but then the muddled mess never leaves the drink. I like the flavor of mint, but not the idea of mint shards floating around in my cup. And if it should get stuck on my teeth? No thanks!
We are ending our Kentucky Derby party (preview though it is) with the taste of mint julep on our lips, with an ultra-refreshing sorbet, made of nothing more than mint, thin simple syrup (sugar and water) and bourbon. Yep, just four simple ingredients, and you can make this as much as a week ahead and enjoy it on your schedule.
Note that the simple syrup is a 2:1 ratio, different from the syrup we used in the cocktails. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, don’t despair—I’ve included an alternate method that requires only a freezer-safe container and a fork.
This “dessert” is really more of a palate cleanser, just a small sweet bit of lightly boozy refreshment after the rich foods of the day. Recipe will yield about 6 servings. Enjoy!
Handful of organic fresh mint (about 1 oz.)
2 cups filtered water
1 cup cane sugar
1/2 cup bourbon
Up to 1 cup unflavored seltzer water (or a subtle flavor such as lemon)*
Additional fresh mint for garnish
Gently rinse the fresh mint in cool water, remove heavy stems and set aside on paper towel.
Place a small saucepan over medium heat and add the bourbon. As you know, alcohol doesn’t freeze completely, so we are going to evaporate some of the alcohol out of the bourbon, thereby concentrating its flavor. Allow it to come to a very slight boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until it’s reduced by half. You can check this by pouring the reduced bourbon into a glass measuring cup—you should end with 1/4 cup or slightly less. Pour into a large glass jar and cool completely, then put it into the fridge.
Rinse the saucepan and combine water and sugar over medium heat. Bring it to a light boil, then turn off the heat. Add the mint leaves and steep for a couple of hours until completely cooled. Strain and discard mint, add syrup to the jar of reduced bourbon and refrigerate.
To freeze the sorbet in an ice cream machine, combine syrup and seltzer, then add the mixture all at once and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions, which is probably about 20 minutes. Transfer to a freezer-safe covered container and freeze several hours or overnight. It will still be pretty soft when you finish the blending, but the deep freeze will firm it up a bit more.
No ice cream machine? No problem—combine the syrup and seltzer in a freezer-safe container (something wide and shallow works best), cover and freeze about 2 hours. Use a fork to scrape through it and “fluff” it up, then freeze another 2 hours (repeat again as needed until it’s as slushy as you like. Or, wait until it’s fully frozen, scoop mixture into a blender or processor and blend until smooth, then re-freeze until ready to serve. This will allow you to incorporate some air into the sorbet.
*This is a very sweet sorbet recipe. If you prefer a lighter essence, combine frozen sorbet with up to a cup of very cold seltzer water in a food processor and return to the freezer. The bubbles in the seltzer will help incorporate air into the sorbet for even freezing.
To serve, scoop sorbet into a small glass dish or shallow cocktail glass, and garnish with a fresh sprig of mint.