It’s Kentucky Derby time, which can mean only one thing of any real importance: Mint Juleps! Forget the Run for the Roses. Forget big hats. But don’t forget the mint and the bourbon, because the Mint Julep is one of the great American classics.
The Mint Julep became the official drink of the Derby in 1938, when you could buy one for 75¢, which included a cool souvenir cup.
What’s a “julep”? Back in 900 A.D., a julep was a medicinal beverage, a mixture of violets macerated with water and sugar. In 1796, the word took on a pop-culture meaning, and a “cordial julep” became an acceptable term for a recreational, alcohol-based drink.
What we now call a Mint Julep first appeared in print about thirty years later, in 1804, though it was called a Mint Sling. A “sling” describes a drink made of water, spirit, and sugar. If you add mint, you get a mint sling, which is what purists called the Mint Julep until the mid-1820s, when they finally gave up and the name Mint Julep stuck.
Grab some sugar water, your favorite Kentucky bourbon, and a few mint leaves. It’s Derby Time.
Kentucky Derby Mint Julep:
¾ oz. simple syrup
2 ¼ oz bourbon
4-6 mint leaves
crushed or shaved ice
Place the mint leaves and simple syrup into the glass portion of a Boston Shaker. GENTLY press the leaves against the bottom of the glass, being careful not to bruise the mint. (Bruising makes the drink bitter.)
Add the bourbon and ice. Shake. Strain into a cup of crushed or shaved ice.
Garnish with a mint sprig or three and enjoy.
Rick Turner is a Certified Specialist in Spirits (Society of Wine Educators) and a Certified Sommelier (Court of Master Sommeliers). He writes about cocktails for EscapeHatchDallas. In his spare time, Turner is the general manager of Pappas Bros. Steakhouse in Dallas.