The Kentucky Derby comes roaring into the final stretch this Saturday, kicking up roses and mint juleps as it makes its way around the track. The race may be about thoroughbreds and serve as the opening ceremony to the Triple Crown (followed by the races at Preakness and finally Belmont Stakes), but to us it's all about whiskey.
Just like Cinco de Mayo is symbolically linked to the margarita, the Kentucky Derby is all about the mint julep, that brawny concoction of crushed ice, a jolt of bourbon, sugar, and cooling mint. But stopping by the Derby Cocktail Company inside the lounge area at Off the Grid Fort Mason, we were treated to a variation on another whiskey classic worthy of a garland of roses: the Derby's Milk Julep ($9, Dickel Rye Whiskey, Tempest Fugit Crème de Menthe, sweet cream, celery bitters).
Reza Esmaili (of Ananas Consulting) is bar curator (and can be found behind the bar), designed the drink to pair with the dessert course of the Stag Dining prix fixe sit down dinner, but we enjoyed it all on its own. "I wanted to offer a decadent version of the Southern classic Mint Julep, and obvious influences from the Bourbon Milk Punch also affected the ingredient choices," says Esmaili. "The goal was to balance the charred, yet vegetal and dill-like flavors of Dickel rye with a rich cream and herbal, sweet notes of Tempest Fugit Crème de Menthe."
Delivering a quality cocktail experience in the parking lot of Fort Mason isn't easy, nor is Derby the first. Alembic has been delivering a full bar experience to thirsty food truckers for the last couple of years, but Derby is the first to create a menu tied to a specific menu. The progression of it shows this moving from "floral, light alcohol and wine based drinks to start, tangy citrus-y long drinks; robust spirit-forward cocktails; palate cleansing "Triple Crown" Snow Cones; and a balanced but rich finish," says Esmaili.
Although we haven't tested out the pairings with the drinks, the drinks alone are worth seeking out. Standing in the round lounge sipping on a Milk Julep certainly tastes like winning.
Derby's Milk Julep
1 ½ oz. Dickel Rye Whiskey
¼ oz. Tempest Fugit Crème de Menthe
2 oz. Sweet cream*
3 dashes Celery bitters
Combine whiskey, crème de menthe, sweet cream, and celery bitters in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a glass with fresh ice. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg and slapped mint sprig.
* Sweet cream: Straus whole milk sweetened with organic cane sugar