Derby Day and the History of the Mint Julep

mint-julepNo Kentucky Derby would be complete without this classic southern treat.

Well Derby day may have already come and gone, but that won’t stop thousands of people from enjoying what some people call ‘the Mojito of the Northern States’ all summer long.

According to legend the Mint Julep first made print in a book by John Davis in 1803, described as being a “dram of spirituous liquor that has mint in it, taken by Virginians in the morning,” but most historians agree the drink was engineered much earlier, perhaps in the early 1700’s.

According to historians, long ago there was an Arabic drink called the juleb which was a concoction of water and fragrant rose petals.  Some people believe that when this drink made its way across Europe the more readily available mint leaves were added instead, thus the Mint Julep.

The classic Mint Julep of today also adds powerful alcohol into the equation and was reportedly enjoyed primarily by Northeastern farmers in the morning, before they set out to tend the crops.  Some have even suggested that it was the cultural equivalent that our cup of coffee in the morning is today.

Regardless of the past history of the celebrated drink, there remains debate also as to the best method of preparation today.  As with many other cocktails, mixologists often disagree on proportions and methods, though most agree that the bourbon should be of the best quality obtainable and the mint leaves should be muddled into the sugar to ensure proper taste.  Crushed ice is preferred and the amount of water added as the finishing touch varies on the drinker’s taste.

The classic recipe served at the Kentucky Derby includes Kentucky whiskey, and became the Churchill Down’s signature drink in 1938.  Originally sold for .75 cents in a souvenir glass, the drink today goes for about five dollars and this year at the derby about 80,000 were expected to be sold.

In 2006 Churchill Downs decided to support local racehorse charities and sold custom Mint Juleps for $1000 each.  Served in gold-plated cups with silver straws, the drinks were made with a top shelf bourbon, mint imported from Ireland, ice from the Bavarian Alps, and sugar from Australia.

This post was contributed by Heidi Taylor, who writes about the health care masters online. She welcomes your feedback at HeidiLTaylor006 at gmail.com


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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Greg Schwartz
    May 16, 2009 at 5:14 am

    I can assure there is no $5 julep to be had on Derby Day at the Downs. Last year, I believe they were $9 a pop. Of course, you still get a snazzy souvenir glass.

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