El Pepino

Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Wish I could say that my delay in writing this post was that this cocktail, which, in my mind, is so close to a julep, is better offered closer to Kentucky Derby Day. Truth is, like a lot of people, I’m busier than I want to be and tired most of the time.

Here, however, is a drink that might pick people up. Having lived in Louisville for a while, I have a special affection for juleps. They remind me of spring itself, those sunny and temperate days that, over the past few months of gray rain and snow, you never quite let yourself believe possible. The new green of this time of year renews hope, and mint conveys that hope beautifully. Something about mint always offers a refreshing element in food and drink.

Two of the non-julep notes of this cocktail—lime and tequila—are borrowed from margaritas and offer festive and zesty flavors too. Here’s the recipe, which comes from Tipsy Texan: Spirits and Cocktails From the Lone Star State.

1/3 fresh diced cucumber

1 ounce Mint Simple Syrup

2 ounces 100% agave silver tequila

1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice

Fresh mint for garnish

Cucumber spear, for garnish

Mezcal (optional)

In the botton of a mixing glass, muddle the cucumber and mint syrup. Add the tequila and lime juice and shake vigorously with ice to chill. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass filled with ice. Garnish with fresh mint and a cucumber spear. You can also float some mezcal on top, if you have it. Lamentably, I did not.

Cucumber seems a popular ingredient in food and drink recently. Though there’s nearly nothing to it in terms of calories and some people might think of it adding nothing but cellulose, it enhances the other fresh, botanical dimensions of this drink. As the description in Tipsy Texan suggests, this cocktail is suited to a warm day and touts, “You’d be hard pressed to find a cocktail more refreshing than this combination of tequila, mint, and cucumber.”

Here’s Jonathan’s review:

There is a general rule that I follow when gathering the ingredients for a cocktail. If there is an item that is difficult to find, secondary to all other parts of the drink ,or just missing from the pantry—I will skip that part. It is unusual yet there are examples where I have done that and noted it. I am talking about you Chinese five spice on the rim of the glass.

This proposal calls for muddled cucumber which is fairly unusual although not completely foreign. That said, it is hardly secondary when one considers all of the other parts of this drink, which are somewhat normal in mixology. The problem was, though, that I had everything ready when it came time to make the cocktail except a cucumber. There was just a moment of hesitation before I decided I could not accurately create the El Pepino without first going to get one. Good choice.

This is a drink that is the product of all its parts working together. The mint is subtle, the sugar in the syrup a smoothing agent, the tequila distinctive but not assertive, the lime juice a contrasting yet quiet acid as it should be. The cucumber jumps out. It makes El Pepino different and distinctive to the point that I think even those who are not fans of cukes would agree that without it the mix is fairly run of the mill. I am probably wrong but my guess would be that most bars don’t stock cucumber. That’s a shame because this is a drink I would actually order without hesitation.

Jonathan’s take: I hereby apologize to the cucumber and promise to find some Pimm’s in the back of my liquor cabinet so that the cuke may shine again.

David’s take: I won’t substitute this drink for my usual Derby Day julep, but maybe every other suitable occasion.

Next Time (Proposed by Jonathan):

I do not consider calories when ordering or making a cocktail. As a beer drinker that is probably a defense mechanism. There are those who do, however, and there are recipes with just that in mind.

Once again, the proposal is an idea rather than a specific drink. I am suggesting that we try cocktails with less calories. That does not mean making simple syrup with stevia leaves, although that is a consideration, rather it is to adjust the ingredients to trim the effect on the waist line. There is no calorie limit just a general concept to lower the total from the standard version of a cocktail or to create a new drink for those who are watching what they eat—or drink.

I feels some club soda coming our way.

Food With Liquor

jbm-popcornProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

My initial idea for this proposal was to make foods that fell into the categories of candy, side dish and entree. It may have been the season, or perhaps an intersection of need and opportunity, but that changed to gift, snack and tradition.

As time has passed, my wife, and to some extent I, have come up with a list of edibles to give as gifts to friends and family who have enough stuff. That list has included peanut brittle, toffee, and chocolate covered pretzels. This year Debbie added ginger bread cake and I made some blog inspired bourbon balls. The recipe I chose was more cookie than candy but there are options for both in the bourbon category. The base was ground Nilla wafers, chopped roasted pecans (presoaked in bourbon), cocoa powder, confectioners sugar, corn syrup and the requisite bourbon. All of that was mixed, chilled, formed into a ball and then rolled into a mix of cocoa and confectioners sugar. They were intended as a gifts and ended up there so I only got to try one. If bourbon was the goal, these morsels achieved that in abundance. I hope the recipients like bourbon.

That second category, snack, says a lot about the down time and bowl games that are a welcome part of the week between Christmas and New Years. There are not as many ideas for savory, liquor added snacks (especially that don’t entail cooking out the alcohol) as there are candies yet I found one appropriate for both my and David’s expertise.

In high school David and I worked at a two screen movie theater. It was small enough that any one day could include duties in ticket sales, concessions, projectionist and even clean up when The Rocky Horror Picture Show caused the regular cleaning crew to quit until the show’s run ended. The best job, and perhaps the one both of were the best at, was chief popper. Although the theater had small machine at the concession stand, most of the corn was popped and bagged over three hour marathon popping sessions in an isolated room behind the projection booth. Those bags supplemented the show corn downstairs and, incidentally, taught us the lesson that the secret to movie popcorn’s excellence is that it is reheated with dry air to provide the all important crispness.

The second recipe relies on that secret. The basic idea is to mix a small amount of liquor with melted butter, spices and whatever else sounds good. I made a butter, tequila, lime juice, brown sugar and cayenne pepper mix that was then poured over microwave corn (my apologies to the Reynolda Cinema popping room). The final step was to spread the popcorn over a cookie sheet and reheat it for 10 minutes in a 300 degree oven for the perfect crispness. Choose you own topping but don’t skip that last step.

Fruit cake is less a tradition of the season than it is a traditional joke of the season. Supposedly no one likes it or eats it but we know that is not true. There is a company in rural North Carolina, Southern Supreme, that makes an excellent cake. I ordered one, having missed making a purchase earlier in the season, with the idea of soaking it in rum. Christmas had already passed when I started to google exactly how to do that and it was only then I discovered my two mistakes. First, I didn’t need google. As one would expect with true traditions, my wife already knew what to do from having watched relatives growing up. Second, I was supposed to wrap the fruitcake in a clean dish towel or cheesecloth and apply the rum once every few days over a period ranging from a month to months. The cake is hidden away in a tin or container during that period until it has reached that perfect consistency and booziness. My mother-in-law apparently hid this wonder from her girls when they were kids by putting it on top of the refrigerator. She must have done the same when her sons-in-law came along. I will need to get back to everyone on how this turns out.

Here’s David’s Entry:

tacosSome people are “show cooks”; that is, they like to cook for audiences, but when it comes to the day-to-day business of preparing nourishment… meh. And, me, I’m not even a show cook. Eating for me is closer to feeding—if a zookeeper came along and slipped something through a slot in the door, I’m not sure I’d mind.

That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate good cooking—I’d prefer my zookeeper to be adept—just that I rarely have the will to prepare meals and rarely enjoy anything I make, for show or otherwise. So perhaps you can understand how challenging this food with liquor proposal has been for me. When it comes to bourbon balls, I could never touch the ones they make at Muth’s Candy in Louisville. As for fruitcake, I’d love to try Jonathan’s, but I’m pretty sure any fruitcake I created would make a better artificial fireplace log. I’m loath to try anything so ambitious.

Every party has a pooper, I know. But I did fulfill this proposal, albeit in my own lazy way. I prepared Queso Flameado with Shrimp and Salsa Ranchera, and, if that sounds fancy, it was…  and wasn’t. Really, this recipe might be renamed “Cheese and Shrimp Tacos,” except that it includes the dramatic steps of making your own salsa and of flambéing the cheese with tequila. After using what we call “an outboard motor” (immersion blender) to smooth out the canned chopped tomatoes, you add shrimp and tequila, get a long match, say a prayer to keep your eyebrows, and call everyone over to watch.

For just a second there, I felt like a show cook after all, and I enjoyed the results. The instant of completion is the optimum moment to eat. The cheese is quite melty, and the tequila imparts a complexity you may not expect, almost as if the dish included the complicated mélange of spices common in Indian food. And, yes, let me repeat, I enjoyed this food I made. I may cook with tequila again, who knows?

The second recipe I want to offer uses bourbon, which I thought, before experimenting with tequila, was the friendliest liquor for cooking. Though it isn’t quite the season for it, we always enjoy a bourbon and chocolate infused pecan pie commercially called, and trademarked, “Derby Pie”®. If anyone asks, however, please tell them we always call it “Museum Winner’s Pie” when we prepare and eat it and discuss it with others. You can find various forms of this “We Can’t Call It What it Really Is Pie” online, but the critical steps are making a soup out of butter, eggs, sugar, chocolate chips, pecans, and bourbon, pouring that soup into a pie shell, and then baking it at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. It couldn’t be easier. Even a lazy-bones like me can manage it.

Jonathan and I were lucky to grow up in a household where my mom—a wonderful, amazing cook—saw to our culinary education. I learned a lot and have most of the basic techniques down. Unfortunately, little actual affection for cooking stuck. Fancy or plain, liquor or no liquor, in the kitchen I feel I’m sometimes channeling my dad, whose “beans and noodles” and “fried bologna sandwiches with ketchup” made us rush our mom’s recovery from every illness. I love to watch the Cooking Channel. That and playing grumpy sous-chef are often as far as I get, but—okay, I admit it—it was fun being pushed out of my comfort zone for this proposal.

Jonathan’s take: I just realized we never sent Bourbon Jerry and Mr. Seed any bourbon balls. I might have to make more.

David’s take: My biggest discovery was that tequila is food-friendly. Who knew?

Next Time (Proposed by David):

‘Tis the season for resolutions and diets, and there’s been a movement afoot to make January a month without alcohol. To that I have to say, “Oh well.” Still, I mean to give it a try. So this time I’m proposing Jonathan and I each create a “Mocktail,” a drink just as complex (and special) as a cocktail without alcohol. Though I fear I may once again play “Doubting David,” I’ll use this month to consider exactly what makes a libation special.

Julep Varietals

JulepDMProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

When Jonathan and I went to the Kentucky Derby with our wives in the mid 80s, we parked our infield picnic blanket next to some proto-bros with a water balloon catapult. A couple of races in, they found their range and pinned a poor racing form seller inside his tin hut. An official-looking person arrived with commands to desist, but by then they were out of ammo anyway. Around three in the afternoon, they began launching their uneaten ham sandwiches instead.

People drink a lot at the Derby.

Churchill Downs’ mint juleps have a reputation for being a little watery, but I think I remember downing a few that day. And it makes me laugh when people talk about juleps as a genteel drink. At three parts bourbon to one part simple syrup, home versions can be quite strong. The idea is to sip them, allowing the ice to dilute their potency, but I enjoy them so much I seldom manage it.

A mint julep is technically a “smash,” a group of drinks defined by spirit (not necessarily bourbon), crushed ice, and macerated mint (or basil, or something leafy). The idea is to coat the glass with the oils of the leaf and lend an aromatic quality to the libation. In the classic julep, mint simple syrup is the short cut. In one of the julep alternatives I tried, “The Wild Ruffian,” (here’s a link to the recipe) the syrup is made of peach preserves, and the mint is pulverized with a muddler. That drink also called for cognac instead of bourbon, so I doubt anyone would recognize the concoction as a “julep.” Nor do I think Churchill Downs would ever serve one… or certainly not in the infield.

Another of the drinks both Jonathan and I tried was the Oaks Lily (recipe link), named for the featured race for fillies highlighting the day before the Derby. When I lived in Louisville, seeing the Oaks in the grandstands was actually affordable and accessible for commoners—no more, apparently—and the Oaks Lily is also suitably direct, relying on vodka over bourbon and cranberry and lime juices, plus a splash of triple sec, instead of simple syrup. Not a sprig of mint is to be seen anywhere, so it wouldn’t really qualify as a smash, just a way to preserve Saturday for the real julep.

As Jonathan explains below, he tried yet another julep alternative called a Bufala Negra, but, despite our experimentation, we both needed to make real juleps too. It’s not that they’re fancy—what could be plainer than 3:1 bourbon to syrup?—but they are tradition. And, if they are good enough for infielders, they are good enough for us.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

JulepJMIt has been my impression that there are many places where the idea of a mint julep is met with disdain. The drink is decidedly a bourbon concoction, but if you love bourbon you don’t need, or want, the dilution and sweetening of the mint or simple syrup. If it is the latter that you like, there’s a good chance that bourbon is not your favorite. All of that is a shame because of how well the flavors go together.

Many years ago David and I had a very bad bourbon experience, and I had sworn off the stuff. A beach trip with our siblings and families helped with my gradual tolerance, and eventual embrace, of the brown liquor. Each sibling had a night when they were responsible for dinner and a cocktail and David chose to make juleps. The key to his mix was a well-crafted mint simple syrup that, to me, makes the difference in a julep. By mixing mint in the syrup, there is no need for dissolving sugar in water, muddling of mint or waiting for the inevitable melding. The two ingredients just mix with their friend crushed ice and a long sip later make for a wonderful combination.

This week was about alternatives though and we tried a couple of them. The first was a drink that was suggested in Southern Living that both David and I tried. I trust that David has provided the recipe for the Blush Lily which is the magazine’s take on the classic drink. It is a nice alternative for those who don’t like bourbon although some may find it more tart than sweet with lime and cranberry as the juices. We tried adding a splash of Blenheim ginger ale and that seemed to address that aspect as well as extend the drink.

My second alternative julep is called the Bufala Negra. I have no idea where that name came from but it is a mix of bourbon and basil with an interesting twist:

4 basil leaves
1 tsp aged balsamic vinegar
½ ounce simple syrup
1.5 ounce bourbon

Muddle 3 basil leaves, balsamic vinegar, and simple syrup. Add bourbon, crushed ice and stir. Garnish with the remaining basil leaf.

The interesting part of this drink is how well the flavors mix. I was wary of drinking even a small amount of vinegar, but mixed with the basil and syrup it was a great match for bourbon. The end result was a less bourbon forward cocktail that still had the sweetness and herbal qualities of a classic julep.

Jonathan’s Take: The classic julep is still the best, but the Blush Lily is great for those who don’t love bourbon and the Negra is an interesting alternative for those who love variety.

David’s Take: The classic is still king, but the others are welcome variations

Next Week (Proposed by Jonathan):

I have been getting some grief about proposing the drink of Wimbledon well before the sporting event. The Pimm’s Cup is a classic drink of summer, however, and there seem to be a number of varieties that showcase different fruits. It is strawberry season all over the country and I wanted a drink that used that fruit without being a return to the sweetness and rum of tiki week.

Hits, Misses, and Otherwise

It's water... really.

It’s water… really.

In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve received a few wonderful comments in the last couple of weeks responding to our request for favorites from our year of cocktailianism. If you want to contribute, please comment on THIS post. We would love to hear from you. In the meantime, here are our lists of hits and misses.

David:

Our task this week is to identify drinks that pleased us and those that… well, then it gets complicated. I thought of many methods of approaching this assignment but finally decided on three categories—the discoveries, the stalwarts, and the duds.

Some of the proposed drinks, I already knew I liked—the Mint Julep, for instance, has always been a favorite of mine—and others like the Manhattan, LiberteaVieux Carré or the Horse’s Neck couldn’t go wrong because they combined ingredients that, separately, were already favorites. Jonathan will take his own course, but the only feasible method of deciding, for me, was to settle on cocktails that surprised me and cocktails that horrified me. Everything else was in-between.

In-between isn’t so bad. In another rating system, these cocktails might be called “honorable mentions.” They were good either because they’re classics or because they couldn’t go wrong. I’ve mentioned the Mint Julep, which carried so many positive memories it’s bound to be freighted with joy, but also Long Island Ice Tea, which I’d never tried but readily understood. Others, like the French 75 and Fall Gimlet, seemed great combinations, designed to assemble wonderful ingredients in something equal, if not greater, than their parts.

I also enjoyed the Sazerac, but maybe that was because my wife left just as I ‘d finished making two and so I was forced—forced!—to consume both.

The duds weren’t hard to choose because, invariably, they failed the ultimate test—I regretted the expense and trouble of making them. In this category are the Tom and Jerry (it seemed altogether too dense, both in conception and texture), the Aviation (my wife likes them and a colleague at school considers it his favorite cocktail, but the taste just seems bizarre to me), and Bloody Marys (maybe I’m just waiting for a good version, but, you know, I really don’t like tomato juice finally).

The worst of the worst? That would be the Blue Sky Cocktail (note to self: never choose a mixed drink for its color) and the Negroni (Campari really is wretched as far as I’m concerned, more lurid and bittter even than Malört—just be grateful you’ve been spared that).

Which leaves only reporting the best (IMHO).

As I said in my lessons of last week, there’s no accounting for matters of taste. My final selections arise from very personal and no doubt idiosyncratic preferences, but I’ll chose, in a sort of order, fifth to first: the Bengali Gimlet (because I’d never thought a cocktail could be so complex and distinctive), the Tabernacle Crush (because, more than any other cocktail we tasted, it seems most immediate and fresh), the Tallulah (because, while I’m sure I’d never have the courage to try something so complicated again, it really does speak to a cocktail as evocative of memory and experience, the Caipirinha de Uva (because, while it seemed exotic, it also seemed an old friend), and the La Marque (because my brother invented it so expertly… and how could I help being proud of him?).

Give me another week, and I might make new lists. Nonetheless, I stand by my choices… for another year, at least.

Empties

Empties… the inevitable result

Jonathan:

Who knew how hard this would be? The first challenge is going back and looking at each week’s cocktail. And of course, the second is trying to remember the specifics about those drinks. I finally decided to create a list labeled with the headings great, good, okay and bad. Once I had placed the sampled concoctions in those categories, it should have been easy to narrow from there. Oh well, wrong again

It should be apparent that, at least in my opinion, there are drinks that fit occasions, times and situations. One drink may be great as part of a meal, while another lends itself to quiet reflection and relaxation. As a result, I hate to rank the top five so I will simply say these are the ties for top spot

Libertea. This beverage is an excellent mix of herb, citrus, tea and bourbon flavors. The week we tried it, I made a mint version to go along with the recipe’s basil version but the recipe creators had made the correct choice with basil. One of the best parts of this cocktail is that it is made in a large batch, steeped tea first, and lends itself to gatherings (think tailgate parties because I am) and lasts a while in the fridge. Perfect for the neighbors who like to try the weekly creations but can’t make it every week.

French 75. This probably would not have made the list if I had not used the right sparkling wine. Early on in the blog, I had made a cocktail that called for white wine and made a very bad choice on type. With the French 75 I used a Cava and it was perfect. The only drawback is that once you open a bottle of bubbly you need to use it all so this drink demands you invite friends to enjoy it with you. Never mind, that’s not a drawback.

Horse’s Neck. The second drink of the series, this is a go-to cocktail now. It could hardly be more simple with bourbon, ginger ale, angostura bitters and lemon peel but the taste is complex and satisfying. The recipe requires a long strip of lemon peel for the name sake “neck” but a simple peel works just as well. Obviously, the better the ginger ale the better the drink.

Vieux Carré. David and I are of Acadian descent on the maternal line. If fact, our Mother grew up speaking as much, or perhaps more, in French than she did in English. You would think, based on that, it would be no problem for me to pronounce the name of this classic. Not so. I love the drink and all its complexities and nuances but for the life of me I can’t say it correctly in classic French or in the more apt New Orleans fashion. That won’t stop me from ordering one though, even if I have to say it over and over.

Hemingway Daiquiri. Last week, I said one of the things I have learned is that the classic sour cocktail (sweet, sour and spirit) is almost always pleasing to me. The Hemingway Daiquiri is a nice twist in that it uses maraschino liqueur for the sweet element and a mix of grapefruit and lime for the sour. Hemingway was a well-known imbiber and so far everything we have tried that was listed as one of his favorites has been worth it.

There a lot of other drinks that almost made the list. Some of them may have been tried in the wrong place or at the wrong time or else they would have been described above. David’s creation of The Pear Culture is one of those. We tried it in the Fall, which was the right time, but it needed a quieter place to enjoy the interesting mix of flavors. Another is the Vesper which begged for a relaxing evening and cooling sea breezes, at least in my mind. That could have been because it was one of the more stout mixes that we have tried and demanded slow, patient sipping.

The misses were few and far between thankfully. The common element for me seems to be oddly colored liqueurs – crème de menthe, blue curacao, crème de violette and Campari among those. Neither my wife nor I could, or would, finish the Greenback which is the best example of drink that did not look or taste appetizing. The Aviation had one of the best back stories and reasons why it was proposed. Added to that was the idea of Crème de Violette which seemed to be just the exotic ingredient that we were seeking in this quest. Unfortunately, the result was odd, the flavors conflicting and the color off putting.

David is much more adventurous in his suggestions and inspirations than I am, but he also brought us the Cinquecento and Blue Sky and those fall squarely on the never again list too. My greatest misses have used Scotch as the primary spirit. Maybe I picked the wrong Scotch or maybe Scotch should be enjoyed neat, but either way the Toast of the Town and classic Rusty Nail didn’t move me or make me want another.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

How can we be partially of French Canadian descent (the Acadian and Montreal connection) and not have tried Canadian Rye? La Belle Quebec uses Canadian whisky, brandy, cherry brandy, lemon juice and sugar. I sure hope I don’t kick off the second year with a dud.

The Mint Julep

julepProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

Some weeks the cocktail seems to pick itself. The first Saturday in May is the Kentucky Derby, and of course the Derby means Mint Juleps. It has been the official cocktail of the race since 1938 and thanks to David and my sister-in-law, Beth, I can say that I have enjoyed one (or more) at the home of the Derby, Churchill Downs. I don’t remember what year that was, but that is more about age than it is the sweetened bourbon and its effects.

A julep is a sweetened and flavored drink, originally made with rosewater. Historic accounts note that the original use of mint and sugar to make a julep included other liquors instead of bourbon. In fact, one of the more interesting things is that before its association with Kentucky the julep was tied to Virginia and breakfast of all things. The idea was that folks would mix a spirit with sugar and mint to get going in the morning. As much as I like a julep, I think I will stick with coffee.

Throughout this cocktail adventure, we have added to our collection of appropriate glasses. This is one of few drinks that we have tried that calls for its own style of cup. The traditional julep cup is made of silver or pewter, the better to frost on the outside when properly mixed. These cups aren’t cheap (and beware of the decorative ones popular for flowers and table dressing) but it seemed worth the investment to enjoy the classic.

There are quite a few suggestions how to mix the proper julep, although the ingredients are fairly simple. Bourbon, sugar, mint, water and ice and you are on your way no matter how you choose to get there. It seems like most recipes start with the mint being muddled with sugar and a small amount of water. Ice and bourbon are added and stirred and then more ice is piled in to get the proper chilling.

I don’t particularly like the mint pieces and find the sugar never really dissolves so I went with mint simple syrup and whole mint leaves at the bottom and as a garnish. It should be noted that the type of ice is important. Most recipes say shaved ice, but that is more work than one should undertake for this relaxing drink. Thanks to my wife finding a source and then getting it, we used granular ice which is perfect for this drink.

Here’s David’s Review:Derby'14

My wife is from Louisville, and I met her during the seven years I lived there. So great is my reverence for that place I wouldn’t deign to review the Mint Julep. That would be a little like reviewing air or the earth beneath my feet.

Oh, I know some people don’t like Juleps. They say they are too sweet or too horsey or too watery or too bourbon-y or too Southern. They dislike the snooty pewter or silver cups and picture the drink as emblematic of a time best forgot. They’ve changed the lyrics to “My Old Kentucky Home,” but no one seems to change them enough, they say. I understand that thinking. The Mint Julep is bigger than itself and evokes more than sweet and minty bourbon.

But, to me, the appeal of a Mint Julep isn’t its associations—or, at least, most of its associations. I think they taste wonderful. Mint is not my favorite flavor generally, but in combination with the mellow, sour drag of bourbon, the mint seems even sprightlier. Many people object to their confection, but, to me, the simple syrup gives the drink gravity and depth as well as sweetness.

And one association I do approve of—the cocktail’s role as the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. I can do without the madras plaid pants, the elaborate hats, and the faux gentility of the occasion. I can do without the parade of wealth. I can do without celebrity and prominence and privilege and exclusivity. But I can’t do without the Juleps.

On a visit to Louisville, Jonathan and his wife Debbie went to the Derby with my wife and me, and I remember buying many official Downs’ Juleps from our un-prominent spot in the infield. It was 1988, I think. The commemorative cup was nice—Louisville locals tend to look down on the track version of the drink—but the day was so much better, bright and warm and funny and, with the neighbors we met, more than a little strange. A good part of my affection for Juleps comes from that day and others. When I have a sip of a Julep, I think of Jonathan and Debbie, and, for that alone, I regard it with gratitude.

We identify memories and feelings about those memories by what urges them into our consciousness. Juleps remind me of the years I attended the Oaks the day before the Derby and the many Derby parties my wife and I have attended and hosted since then. More than anything else, the Derby excuses celebrating, and the race, whatever goes on behind the scenes or rattles through the television tube broadcast, offers a thrill that reminds me to be grateful for chance, the sense that nothing has been written yet.

None of which helps anyone understand what a Julep is like or how it might be good or bad. You will have to look for that elsewhere.

David Take: Mint Juleps are May, and vice versa.

Jonathan’s Take: The julep may have chosen us, but I am happy to choose it back.

Next Week (proposed by David):

Both Jonathan and I have sons graduating from college this May. Josh, Jonathan’s son, graduates next week and my son, Ian, on the 21st. In honor of their achievement and with pride in their accomplishment, I’m proposing a Blue Sky Champagne Cocktail. As chance has it, their schools—Carolina and Columbia—use the same blue (almost), and I’d like to raise a toast, with Jonathan, to our boys.