My Minnesota-born mother had never tasted bourbon before she met my father, a rock-and-roller from Oklahoma. He loved the stuff, and his favorite drink made from it was an icy mint julep, that supremely soothing cocktail without which any Kentucky Derby party is incomplete. The julep is the ultimate sultry-weather cooler, as indispensable as a seersucker suit. Often served in a chilled silver cup—though my dad preferred an old-fashioned glass—the mint julep is bourbon whiskey served over cracked or crushed ice and mixed with simple syrup that's been muddled with fresh mint leaves (though some people eschew the muddling and infuse the bourbon or simple syrup with the leaves and then drain it). A few sprigs of fresh mint are the mandatory garnish. The sweetness of the syrup smooths the bourbon's sharp edges, and the clean, refreshing perfume of the mint combines with the chill of the glass to create a potent, icy sensation that invariably caused my dad to let out a rebel yell after his first sip. Now I often do the same.
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