The Real Reason We Always Drink Mint Juleps For The Kentucky Derby

Photo: Stockfood.
Saturday, May 6 will mark the 143rd Kentucky Derby. The race, which has been held continuously since 1875, lasts all of two minutes but also marks one of the only times of the year many Americans pay attention to horse racing. While the event's history definitely has something to do with it — it's the longest continually-held sporting event in the country after all — we guess, in large part, a lot of it is because it's a great excuse to have a party. And, if you are attending or throwing a Derby party of your very own, chances are you'll be serving Mint Juleps.
As synonymous with the Derby as big hats, Mint Juleps have been served at all 142 races. While the exact inventor of the mint julep is up for debate, it's been around in some form or the other since at least the early 19th century, if not before. Made with crushed iced, bourbon, mint leaves, and sugar, it's part of a family of cocktails knows as smashes.
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While mint juleps have always been present at the Derby, however, it didn't become the official drink until 1939. Sara Brown Meehan, director of lifestyle communications at the Churchill Downs Racetrack where the Derby is held, tells us, that was the year the first Derby glasses were introduced.
Currently. the Derby's official julep recipe is made with Old Forester bourbon. "Old Forester, which was found five years before the first running of the Derby, is the only bourbon continuously sold by the founding family before, during and after Prohibition," Meehan explains.
On Saturday, 120,000 juleps will be enjoyed by spectators. They can choose between the official mint julep cocktail as well as Prescription Julep #2, a 21st century take on an 19th century version of the cocktail that used cognac and rye whiskey, from of mixologist Charles Joly. Since we won't be able to make it to Louisville for the race, we have both recipes below. Consider enjoying one (or both!) in a big hat of your choosing this weekend.
The Old Forester Mint Julep Recipe
Ingredients
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
Sprigs of fresh mint
Crushed ice
Old Forester Straight Bourbon Whisky
Silver Julep Cups
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Instructions
Make a simple syrup by boiling sugar and water together for five minutes. Cool and place in a covered container with six or eight sprigs of fresh mint, then refrigerate overnight. Make one julep at a time by filling a julep cup with crushed ice, adding one tablespoon mint syrup and two ounces of Old Forester Kentucky Whisky. Stir rapidly with a spoon to frost the outside of the cup. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.
Prescription Julep #2
Ingredients
3/4 oz. bourbon
3/4 oz. Cognac
3/4 oz. Rum
1/2 oz. pineapple syrup
Dash of Peychaud’s Bitters
Dash of Angostura Bitters
Dash of cocktail bitters
10 mint leaves
Instructions
Combine bourbon and mint leaves in the bottom of a julep cup. Gently muddle to release mint oils. Add remaining ingredients and stir in the julep cup. Fill completely with crushed ice. Place bouquet of mint and straw into cup.
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