The Mint Julep: A Brief History #Derby

It's April and that means we are even closer to the Derby (May 2nd, YES it is that close). There is only one place we want to be watching the race, and that's at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame's Bacon, Brews, and Brims Kentucky Derby Party. At the party you'll be able to sample some fabulous bourbons, and we will surely spot party goers sipping on Mint Juleps, the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby.

The Mint Julep is no stranger to our race fans in the south, but up here we only seem to sip it on Derby Day and forget it. So what exactly IS a Mint Julep, and why is it the Derby drink of choice?

Approximately 120,000 mint juleps are quaffed each year during the first weekend of May at the Kentucky Derby, and traditionally the julep is made with four ingredients: mint leaf, bourbon, sugar, and water, with spearmint being the mint of choice in the south, and in Kentucky in particular.

According to Southern Living, the drink is best made individually "to taste" using only the freshest ingredients. Many crush the mint and sugar together (referred to as muddling), while others insist that the mint should be smelled not tasted (here at the Saratoga Social we like to taste our mint, thank you very much).

The origins of the mint julep are muddled (pun intended), but it originated in the southern United States, most likely during the eighteenth century. One of the earliest records of the mint julep is an 1803 British travelogue, in which the writer mentions drinking them on a Northern Virginia plantation, and U.S. Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky introduced the drink to Washington, D.C., at the Round Robin Bar in the famous Willard Hotel during his residence in the city in the early 1800s.

Churchill Downs' clubhouse began mixing mint juleps around 1875 and the drink really became popular and became the track's signature libation in 1938 when the management began charging 75 cents for the drink and the small glass vessel it came in. Kentuckians maintain that "when a mint julep is made right, you can hear angels sing".

You won't need a julep recipe for Derby Day if you join us at Bacon, Brews, and Brims, and if you buy your tickets early you'll save money and can wager those savings on the pony of your choice. Click here for ticketing and more information.

Kentucky newspaperman J. Soule Smith penned his famous ode to the julep in the 1890s. Its first verse reads:
“Then comes the zenith of man’s pleasure.
Then comes the julep ­­– the mint julep.
Who has not tasted one has lived in vain.
The honey of Hymettus brought no such solace to the soul;
the nectar of the gods is tame beside it.
It is the very dream of drinks,
the vision of sweet quaffings.”


Posted on April 1, 2015 .