Seasonal Spotlight: Kentucky Derby And The Mint Julep

Like a thoroughbred thundering down the track, the Kentucky Derby is just around the corner. So dig out your best Derby hat and check out this little history lesson on the Kentucky Derby and  the infamous, Mint Julep. No matter which horse you’re rooting for, you’ll feel like a winner.

More than two hundred years ago, somewhere in North America, cognac, peach brandy or un-aged whiskey was mixed with sugar and mint, and served on a mound of snowy ice for the first time. The resulting Mint Julep was a chilly masterpiece that conquered the sweltering dog days of summer.

But this frosty invention was far from the world’s only foray into cooling beverages. Alexander the Great dug pits during a military campaign and filled them with snow to chill wine for his soldiers. And the Sicilians borrowed an idea from the Arabs and found relief from the heat by making flavored ices.

The lore surrounding the Mint Julep is legendary in its own right and usually involves antebellum mansions, slavery and the leisure class in Georgia and Virginia. However, cocktail historian David Wondrich points out that it wasn’t just a Southern tipple: Juleps were actually a favorite in New York and wildly popular in the hottest months.

There are many recipes for the drink, which change dramatically from place to place and from generation to generation. Today, the bourbon version is most widely preferred and has become a requisite part of Kentucky Derby festivities. For more information on Bourbon, please check out my post here

I would also encourage you to try the Rainbow Julep, which calls for both bourbon and apricot liqueur or the classic Mint Julep.


Rainbow Julep

  • 4 or 5 Mint leaves
  • ¼ oz Marie Brizard Apry Apricot Liqueur
  • 2 oz Bourbon
  • Garnish: Mint sprigs
  • Glass: Highball

In a mixing glass, muddle the mint and apricot liqueur. Add the bourbon and strain into a highball glass filled with finely crushed ice. Stir until the outside of the glass frosts. Garnish with two mint sprigs. Let the drink rest until a layer of frost has formed on the outside of the glass.


Classic Mint Julep

  • 2 oz Bourbon
  • ¼ oz Raw sugar simple syrup (one part water, one part raw sugar)
  • 8 Mint leaves
  • Garnish: Mint sprig
  • Glass: Julep

Lightly muddle the mint and simple syrup in a julep cup. Add bourbon and pack tightly with crushed ice. Stir until the cup is frosted on the outside.  Top with more crushed ice to form an ice dome and garnish with a mint sprig.