Kentucky Derby Prep: Mint Bitters & Sous Vide Mint Infused Bourbon

By: Steven Rodia


With the Kentucky Derby coming up in the first week of May, it’s time to get your seersucker dry cleaned and to sharpen your cocktail game.  Since 1875, no drink is more synonymous with the Derby than the Mint Julep.  That was my inspiration for the very, very simple infusion detailed below and I hope you enjoy.  Of course, this infusion could find a home in several warm weather cocktails, particularly the grilled watermelon and bourbon cooler recipe from the Culinary Institute of America.  In addition, I wanted to share a simple recipe for mint bitters that you can use to create a myriad of cocktail creations.

Mint and Valencia Orange Bitters Recipe:

  • 1 cup of fresh mint leaves, bruised
  • 1/4 cup of dried Valencia Orange peel
  • 8 green cardamom pods, cracked
  • 1/2 teaspoon gentian root
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice berries
  • 1 cup of high proof liquor (recommend high proof bourbon)
  • 3 tablespoons of simple syrup

Place all of the ingredients in a vacuum sealed bag or zip-top plastic bag and seal using the displacement method (video here).  Add the bag to the water bath with your sous vide device set for 50°C (122°F) and cook sous vide for 2 hours.  I have been using the Nomiku Immersion Circulator and it has been a fantastic kitchen tool.  Afterwards, remove the bag from the water bath and strain through a coffee filter into a small bottle.  Use the bitters to create new and exciting cocktails including something simple like the variation on the Queen’s Park Swizzle from Imbibe below.


Mint Infused Bourbon Recipe:

  • 1 cup of fresh mint leaves, bruised (place the mint leaves in your palm and lightly slap them twice to release the oils)
  • 2 cups of Kentucky Bourbon – High proof is usually desirable because it stands up better to the melting ice

Add the ingredients to a bag and vacuum seal or place in a zip top bag and seal using the water displacement method.  Cook sous vide at 50ºC (122ºF) for 45 minutes.  Pour the bag through a strainer or filter and store in a mason jar for your future cocktail enjoyment.


Cocktail Idea – Mint Julep:

Nothing says the Derby like a Mint Julep.  Enjoy one with friends at home or at “The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports”.

  • Add 2oz of your mint infused bourbon to a Julep cup
  • Add 2 tablespoons of water
  • Add 2 tablespoons of simple syrup (see recipe below)
  • Top with fresh crushed ice
  • Express the oil from a mint leaf by bruising it and running it around the edge of the cup.  Garnish with a fresh mint sprig and serve



Simple Syrup Recipe

  • Add one cup sugar (I prefer Bourbon Barrel Foods Bourbon Smoked Sugar) to one cup of water and bring to a boil in a small pot
  • Simmer while stirring for 3 minutes
  • Let cool and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks


Cocktail Idea – Queen’s Park Swizzle:

  • Add 4 dashes of your newly created mint bitters, 2 dashes of Angostura bitters, 3oz. 80-proof Demerara rum, 1/2 oz. simple syrup, and 1/2 oz. fresh lime juice to a highball glass
  • Fill the glass with crushed ice
  • Using a bar spoon or standard spoon, swizzle the ice against the glass until a frost forms on the outside
  • Top with additional ice, if needed
  • Garnish with a fresh lime peel