When is National Mint Julep Day? Always May 30th!
• 3 ounces Bourbon whiskey
• 4 to 6 sprigs mint leaves
• Granulated sugar, to taste
• Serve over crushed or shaved ice
Standard garnish: mint leaves
Standard drinkware: tall glass, or julep cup
Put mint, sugar, and a small amount of crushed or shaved ice into the bottom of a julep cup or tall glass. (Optional: Muddle the mint and sugar, then let stand for a bit to allow the broken leaves to release their flavor.) Add bourbon whiskey, top off with crushed or shaved ice, and stir well to mix and chill the mixture.
The origins of the mint julep are clouded and may never be definitively known. The first appearance of a mint julep in print came in a book by John Davis published in London in 1803, where it was described as “a dram of spirituous liquor that has mint steeped in it, taken by Virginians of a morning.” However, Davis did not specify that bourbon was the spirit used. The traditional Virginia recipe as served at the “Old White” is described-”…the famous old barroom, which was approached by a spiral staircase. Here in this dark, cool room, scented with great masses of fragrant mint that lay upon mountains of crushed ice, in the olden days were created the White Sulphur mint julep and the Virginia toddy, for which this place was famous the world over. The mint juleps were not the composite compounds of the present day. They were made of the purest French brandy, limestone water, old-fashioned cut loaf sugar, crushed ice, and young mint the foliage of which touched your ears…Here, in this old room, was uttered that famous remark of the Governor of North Carolina to the Governor of South Carolina. ‘It is a long time between drinks.’” The mint julep originated in the southern United States, probably during the eighteenth century. 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. The term ‘julep’ is generally defined as a sweet drink, particularly one used as a vehicle for medicine. Americans enjoyed not only bourbon-based juleps during the nineteenth century, but also gin-based juleps made with genever, an aged gin. Recently, however, bourbon-based juleps have decisively eclipsed gin-based juleps. Traditionally, the silver cup should have a copper core to fully freeze the contents.
The Kentucky Derby
The mint julep has been promoted by Churchill Downs in association with the Kentucky Derby since 1938. Each year almost 120,000 juleps are served at Churchill Downs over the two-day period of the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby, virtually all of them in specially made Kentucky Derby collectible glasses.
In a contract arrangement between the Brown-Forman Corporation and Churchill Downs that has lasted more than 18 years, the Early Times Mint Julep Cocktail has been the designated “official mint julep of the Kentucky Derby”, although the Early Times sold within the United States is not a bourbon. (It is a Kentucky whiskey, but not a bourbon.)
Since 2006, Churchill Downs has also served extra-premium custom-made mint juleps at a cost of $1000 each at the Kentucky Derby. These mint juleps were served in gold-plated cups with silver straws, and were made from Woodford Reserve bourbon, mint imported from Ireland, spring water ice cubes from the Bavarian Alps, and sugar from Australia. The proceeds were used to support charitable causes dedicated to retired racehorses. Woodford Reserve and Early Times are sister brands produced by Brown-Forman, and under the terms of its current marketing agreement with Churchill Downs, Woodford Reserve is called the “official bourbon” of the derby.
In May 2008, Churchill Downs unveiled the world’s largest mint julep glass. Churchill Downs, in conjunction with Brown-Forman, commissioned the Weber Group to fabricate the 6-foot (1.8 m) tall glass (7.5-foot (2.3 m) if the mint sprig is included). The glass was constructed from FDA food-grade acrylic, heated and molded into the shape of an official 2008 Derby glass. It had a capacity of 206 US gallons (780 l; 172 imp gal), and distributed the Early Times mint juleps at the Derby with an elaborate pumping system concealed within the “stir straw”.