Updated: May 6
The Kentucky Derby is a world-renowned horse race that takes place annually at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. It's an event steeped in tradition, with a rich history dating back to 1875. And while the focus is certainly on the horses and the race itself, another tradition has become just as popular in recent years: the mint julep. The mint julep is the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, and it has been for nearly a century. It's a refreshing, sweet cocktail that's perfect for sipping on a hot day at the track. But what exactly is a mint julep, and how did it become so closely associated with the Kentucky Derby? The mint julep is believed to have originated in the southern United States, possibly as far back as the eighteenth century. The basic recipe is quite simple: it consists of bourbon, sugar, water, and fresh mint. The ingredients are combined and served over crushed ice in a silver or pewter cup, which is important because it helps keep the drink ice-cold. To make a mint julep, you begin by placing a few sprigs of fresh mint in the bottom of your silver cup, along with a spoonful of sugar. You then muddle the mint and sugar together, using a muddler or the back of a spoon, until the mint is fragrant and the sugar has dissolved. Next, you add a splash of water, followed by two ounces of good-quality bourbon. Fill the cup with crushed ice, stir everything together, and garnish with a sprig of fresh mint. So, how did this simple cocktail become so closely associated with the Kentucky Derby? It's believed that the mint julep first became popular at the racetrack in the late nineteenth century. At the time, the Kentucky Derby was still a relatively new event, and the track was trying to find ways to attract more spectators. Serving cold, refreshing mint juleps on a hot day was one way to do just that. Over the years, the mint julep has become a symbol of the Kentucky Derby itself. Each year, more than 100,000 mint juleps are sold at Churchill Downs over the course of the two-day event. The official mint julep recipe has remained largely unchanged for decades, and many people consider it an essential part of the Kentucky Derby experience. While the mint julep may have started out as a simple southern cocktail, it has become a beloved tradition at the Kentucky Derby and beyond. Whether you're a seasoned racing fan or just someone who enjoys a good cocktail, the mint julep is a drink worth savoring. So, the next time you're looking for a refreshing summer cocktail, give the mint julep a try – you just might fall in love with this classic Kentucky favorite.