Updated: Apr 30, 2021
The Kentucky Derby is a horse race held annually on the first weekend of May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. Back for its 147th year, it’s a fast and fun event that caps off a two week festival. Among the many traditions of the Kentucky Derby, including the race itself, horse betting and ladies wearing fabulous hats and fascinators, its most ubiquitous tradition is the Derby’s official drink — the Mint Julep.
The Mint Julep is a cocktail consisting of bourbon, mint and sugar syrup. It has been promoted by Churchill Downs in association with the Derby since 1938. Every year, almost 120,000 Mint juleps are served at Churchill Downs over the two-day period of the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby, virtually all of them in specially made Kentucky Derby collectible glasses that feature previous winners.
The term “julep” is lightly defined as a “sweet drink”. It’s believed that the Mint Julep originated in the southern United States sometime in the 1700s. By 1820, it became a legacy in Virginia and was adopted as an identifying emblem. The first acknowledged master of mint juleps was Jasper Crouch, a free person of colour from Richmond.
Since we aren’t able to travel to see the Kentucky Derby in person this year, watch it from home on May 1 via the broadcast, and make yourself a Mint Julep or two to create a bit of the festival vibe at home. The ‘official’ bourbon of the Derby is Woodford Reserve, but you can use any Kentucky Bourbon you prefer — remember that Bourbon is the only liquid in the drink, so make sure it’s a high quality one you enjoy! Traditionally, they were served in silver or pewter cups and held only by the bottom edges of the cup, which allowed frost to form on the outside of the cup. If you have a special Julep glass, you can use that, but they’re modernly served in Old Fashioned, highball or Collins glasses. And that’s not to say that the Mint Julep should only be reserved for one day a year — this cool, refreshing cocktail will help you beat the heat all summer long.
Mint Julep Recipe
8 mint leaves (Spearmint preferred in the southern US)
2 oz Bourbon (We like Woodford Reserve or Buffalo Trace)
1/4 ounce simple syrup
Garnish: Mint sprig
Garnish: Angostura bitters (optional)
In a silver Julep cup or rocks glass, lightly muddle the mint leaves in the simple syrup to release the essential oils in the mint.
Add the bourbon then pack the glass tightly with crushed ice.
Stir ingredients together until well-chilled/ the cup is frosted on the outside.
Top with more crushed ice to form an ice dome, and garnish with a mint sprig and a few drops of Angostura bitters (optional).