There’s nothin’ more invitin’ than whilin’ away a hot summer day on your porch swing while sippin’ a frosty mint julep.
We’ve dropped the gs because that first line should be read with a pronounced southern drawl. After all, the birthplace of the mint julep was below the Mason-Dixon Line. While the cocktail has been around for at least two centuries, mint juleps today are more commonly associated with the Kentucky Derby, a two-day horse racing event in which nearly 120,000 mint juleps are quaffed each year during the first weekend of May.
So as we raise our glasses to toast National Mint Julep Day on May 30, let’s honor the drink for its longevity, good taste and as a fine symbol of southern hospitality.
The Mint Julep Recipe
For a drink with arguably only 3 ingredients, the number and range of recipes seems limitless. How to make a true Mint Julep remains a hotly debated topic in the world of bartending and mixology. However, we don’t think anyone would argue with this “how to” video from Chris McMillian, the bartender at the The Library Lounge at the Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans. Ideally he would be from Kentucky but it’s hard to argue with his passion and knowledge.
History of the Mint Julep
Mint juleps date back to at least the early 19th century. One of the earliest citings took place in 1803 by British traveller John Davis, who mentioned drinking a mint julep at a northern Virginia plantation. In his book, Travels of Four Years and a Half in the United States of America, Davis described it as “a dram of spirituous liquor that has mint steeped in it, taken by Virginians of a morning.”
It’s thought that this version of the famous tipple was made with rye whiskey or rum rather than the currently traditional bourbon. Although the mint julep is appreciated throughout the South, Kentucky, proud of its bourbon, popularized the drink in the twentieth century.
The Mint Julep & The Kentucky Derby
The mint julep first became the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby in 1938 when they were served in water glasses that turned out to be popular take-home souvenirs pinched by derby goers. Management began charging an extra 25 cents to those who wished to keep the glasses.
Since 2006, Churchill Downs has premium juleps served in gold-plated cups with silver straws for $1000 each. The track also produced the world’s largest mint julep glass at 6 feet tall, which could hold 206 gallons and dispensed small amounts of the cocktail from a pumping system concealed within the massive straw.
During derby weekend, the track goes through more than 10,000 bottles of Early Times Mint Julep Ready-to-Serve Cocktail, 1,000 pounds of freshly harvested mint and 60,000 pounds of ice.