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Start by making simple syrup (a cup of cold water, two cups of sugar and six mint sprigs). Boil the sugar and water for five minutes. Then let it cool and add the mint leaves. Let the syrup "brew" for 12 hours, then stir and strain to remove the mint. Mix two jiggers of bourbon with one jigger of simple syrup and pour into a glass filled with crushed ice. Stir and stick in a fresh mint sprig (it resembles a hardy weed). Think of it as a snowcone that gives you a buzz.
There's no accounting for taste, especially when such a second-rate concoction is so popular that it's almost heretical to criticize it. To a connoisseur of good bourbon, it seems like a sinful waste, and to this former bartender, the mint sprig is extremely optional. The best I can say about the mint julep is the more of them you drink, the better you like them. During Derby week approximately 90,000 will be sold, at $7 or $8 each, at Churchill Downs, and as a bonus revelers keep the attractive souvenir glass as a memento of the day they spent walking around in a haze beneath the Twin Spires.
Watch the Kentucky Derby on NBC (Saturday at 5 p.m. ET).