Toast the Kentucky Derby and Cinco de Mayo With This Mexican-Inspired Louisville Julep
A citrusy, mezcal-based twist on the classic cocktail.
If you’re in Louisville for the Kentucky Derby, you’re most likely going to have at least one Mint Julep. The classic drink’s powerful combo of booze, mint, a little sugar and lots of ice has been cooling down sweltering Southerners since the 1700s and shows no sign of slowing.
This year, the Derby will be run on Saturday, May 5 — which you might also know as Cinco de Mayo, a commemoration of a Mexican victory over invading French forces in 1862 and the United States’ favorite celebration of our neighbors to the south. In honor of both occasions, one influential bar just across town from Churchill Downs is making a clever variation on the Julep that’s refreshing, subtly citrusy and a breeze to make at home for your own celebration, be it of the Triple Crown, the Battle of Puebla, or both.
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“A lot of times a Mint Julep is a little heavy — people come to Kentucky excited to have one, and then they’re kinda disappointed in it,” says Bri Hlava, beverage director and event coordinator for Butchertown Social, a year-old bar and restaurant in Louisville’s hip Butchertown neighborhood. “The Julep is a classic, but it’s great to use a spirit that people aren’t as familiar with.” Hlava is a big fan of mezcal, a cousin of tequila also distilled in Mexico that often has a smoky, vegetal flavor. And to combine the bar’s Derby Day and Cinco de Mayo festivities, she created the La Rosilla, a citrusy, mezcal-based twist on the Julep.
“There’s not a lot that goes into a Julep, as long as it’s it’s under fresh ice and it’s really cold and there’s just enough sweetness to keep it refreshing,” Hlava says. “When it’s hot on Derby Day you want something icy you can suck down between races.” So she named her concoction after a small town in Mexico’s Durango state that’s among the coldest parts of the country, an area where it even snows regularly in winter.
The La Rosilla incorporates mezcal, mint and an easy syrup made from mandarins and sugar. “A lot of times in Mexico, if you’re drinking mezcal, it’s served with an orange slice. The fresh citrus goes really well with the smokiness of the mezcal,” Hlava explains. “Mandarins are such a nice, bright, spring flavor, and I wanted to pair the mezcal with that.”
Butchertown Social has big plans for Derby weekend, hosting a 10-course dinner on May 4, showing the full day of races on its big theater screen and presenting a special Kentuckian/Mexican menu on May 5, and serving an indulgent brunch May 6. But even if you won’t be in the Bluegrass State, you can party like you are by mixing up Hlava’s surprisingly simple cocktail. You just need mint, citrus, sugar, mezcal (the recipe calls for Mala Idea, a brand whose owner is Butchertown Social’s neighbor, but any kind will do) and lots and lots of ice.
By Bri Hlava | Butchertown Social | Louisville, Kentucky
- 2 oz. Mezcal Mala Idea Espadin Capon (or your favorite mezcal)
- 1 tbsp. Mandarin syrup*
- 1 handful fresh mint leaves
- wine glass
- mint sprig and mandarin peel
Fill a wine glass halfway with crushed ice and add all the ingredients. Swizzle with a swizzle stick (or stir vigorously), and then top with more crushed ice to fill the glass. Garnish with a fresh mint sprig and a swatch of mandarin peel.
*To make Mandarin Syrup, juice 4 mandarins, reserving the peels. Measure the juice and add an equal volume of water and twice the volume of sugar (e.g. for 1 cup of juice, add 1 cup of water and 2 cups of sugar). Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves completely. Remove from the heat, add the reserved peels and let stand until cool. Strain, and store in the refrigerator.