It’s May, which means the Kentucky Derby is coming soon, and to prepare you for race day, we want to make sure you know the history of its signature drink, the Mint Julep, and more importantly, how to make one to enjoy Derby Day properly.
Derby Day is always the first Saturday in May and the Kentucky Derby is held at Churchill Downs, near Louisville. While it’s true that the mint julep has been served at the track since the late 1930s, it wasn’t invented there.
The term “julep” first appeared in the 14th century, meaning “syrupy drink in which medicine is given.” Some would argue that hasn’t changed much. There was also an Arab drink called “julab” which was made from rose petals and water. As Arab invasions of north Africa brought the beverage to the Mediterranean, mint, which was more popular, replaced the rose petals. While traditional variants of the mint julep were made with gin, the famous “official drink of the Kentucky Derby” is made with bourbon.[bctt tweet=”The mint julep is a distinctively American drink with roots that go back centuries…” username=”LiftedSpirits”]
Here’s an account of the drink from 1832:
“I saw here for the first time a hailstorm, that is to say, a mint julep made with a hailstorm around it. The drink is manufactured pretty much as usual and well led with a quantity of ice chopped in small pieces, which is then put in the shape of a fillet around the outside of the tumbler where it adheres like a ring of rock candy and forms an external icy application to your lower lip as you drink it, while the ice within the glass presses against your upper lip. It is nectar, they say, in this part of the country.”
So the drink has a great history, is associated with fast and beautiful horses, pretty girls in hats, and is pretty much required drinking on Derby Day. How, oh how, do we make them? Well…
How to Make a Mint Julep
You want to start with a simple syrup.* Add 6-8 mint leaves and gently muddle the leaves – enough to open up the aroma, without shredding them beyond recognition.
You then take a chilled julep cup** with crushed ice, and add one tablespoon of the syrup for every two ounces of bourbon. (We’ll be pouring Wicket & Peg bourbon – the light corn spirit makes a particularly refreshing drink). Once you’ve added the amount you want, stir rapidly with a spoon so you can frost the outside of the cup.
Lastly, garnish with a sprig of fresh mint. Slap the mint between your hands first – you’ll feel a little silly, but trust us: smell the mint before and after slapping it…
*You can make your own simple syrup by boiling 2 cups sugar and 2 cups water together for five minutes. You can then cool it and place it in a covered container with six to eight sprigs of fresh mint, then refrigerate overnight (you’ll have to do this Friday).
**While it would be awesome for you to have a pewter or silver julep cup, most people may not necessarily have one (or seven) around the house, so feel completely fine using glass, keeping in mind that’s exactly what Churchill Downs uses when they serve up over 120,000 of them in signature keepsake glasses.[bctt tweet=”Mint Julep 101: Slap the mint between your hands. You’ll feel silly, but trust us…” username=”LiftedSpirits”]
Come Celebrate the Derby With Us This Saturday
If you want to enjoy mint juleps in style this weekend, come watch the races with us this Saturday! Click the invite below for details.