The mint julep and the Kentucky Derby have become synonymous, but how and why? The history of the Mint Julep can be traced back to the 1700s on the southern east coast of the United States. Some say it was an evolution of a Arab drink called made of water and rose petals called a Julab. Regardless, the first instance of the Mint Julep in print was in 1803s Travels of Four Years and a Half in the United States of America, in which author John Davis proclaims Julep is, “a dram of spirituous liquor that has mint steeped in it, taken by Virginians of a morning.” We are not quite sure of what liquor he is talking about.
We do know that the Old White Tavern in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia made their famous Juleps with brandy. In 1816, the Kentucky Gazette mentioned mint julep cups being awarded as prizes at horse races in the Commonwealth, thus beginning the connection with the yet to be run Derby. How and why they started serving Juleps in these metal cups is not clear.
After the Civil War, most people were using bourbon in their Juleps as most could only afford locally made spirits. It was also during this time that serving Mint Juleps became popular at race tracks in the south. Although they have been serving Mint Juleps at Churchill Downs since 1875 it did not become the official drink if the Kentucky Derby until 1938. Currently, the official Kentucky Derby Mint Julep is made with Early Times Bourbon. Over Derby Weekend they will serve over 100,000 Mint Juleps at Churchill Downs.
- 2 oz Bourbon
- 6 sprigs of fresh mint
- 2 tsp super fine sugar
Place sprigs of mint in glass with the sugar and a small amount of water and muddle gently. Fill half way with crushed ice, then add the bourbon. Don’t stir. Fill the glass the rest of the way with crushed ice. Stick it in the freezer until the glass frosts—this should take roughly five minutes.
Garnish with more mint sprigs and a straw.
Traditionally, a silver julep cup is used. However, a Collins or Highball glass can work in a pinch.