The Kentucky Derby and the Mint Julep are tied closely together. But the minty and ice-cold Bourbon drink is far too good to only enjoy it only on a couple of days each year.
Notably, the Mint julep is one of the few drinks that essentially need crushed ice whereas most cocktails require ices cubes. But in this specific case, other versions of ice won’t have the same effect because they behave differently regarding cooling and diluting your drink.
So let’s take a look at how the drink became famous and how to make a perfect Mint Julep at home.
History of the Mint Julep
The term julep actually derives from the Spanish word “julepe” which means rosewater. In English, “julep” was originally referred to as a sweet drink. It got commonly used for only slightly alcoholic medical purposes and.
The American Mint Julep, however, was created in the 18th century. The earliest mention is from 1770, printed in the Williamsburg Virginia Gazette. In a book from John Davis, the Julep is described as “a dram of spirituous liquor that has mint steeped in it, taken by Virginians of a morning.”
But all these early mentions and signs of popularity are nothing compared to what the Kentucky Derby did for the drink. Since 1938 Churchill Downs -the horse racing complex where the Derby takes place- promoted the Mint Julep during the Kentucky Derby. And each year, they served more than 120,000 drinks in special collectible glasses.
And ever since then, everybody associates the Mint Julep closely with the prestigious horse race and has gained nationwide popularity.
Here’s an interesting fact: the original spirit in a Julep was most likely Cognac. But due to the phylloxera epidemic in France, Cognac couldn’t be exported, and therefore it was replaced by Bourbon. Something very similar happened to the Sazerac cocktail. There, Cognac got replaced by Rye Whiskey at around the same time.
The Julep Cup
The Mint Julep traditionally got served in a Julep cup. This iconic vessel instantly revealed the kind of drink one receives. These Mint Julep cups are produced in Kentucky and come into use when serving the drink at the Kentucky Derby.
Older than the Kentucky Derby itself, the Mint Julep cup is a handmade cup crafted of sterling silver from the early 1800s. The iconic and sleek design is accredited to early silversmiths Asa Blanchard of Lexington and William & Archibald Cooper of Louisville. There are two typical styles of these cups. One type has a beaded rim, the other sports a banded rim.
Tips to make a spectacular Mint Julep
The Mint Julep cocktail only has a few ingredients. Nonetheless, there are some things you have to look out for. The first one is to choose the right Bourbon. As the drink contains approximately a ton of crushed ice, you’ll need a nice and high-proof Bourbon. One that stands up against the enormous amounts of ice and won’t get diluted. Crushed ice will melt a lot faster than bigger chunks of ice do.
There are quite some websites claiming that mid-80 to 90 proof is enough. However, after consulting Kentucky Bartenders, choosing a Bourbon of 100 proof or more is recommendable.
Mint is the other main component of the Mint Julep. And to get the best mint flavor out of it, you have to treat it correctly. You may know that slapping mint is imperative to release the oils and create that intense minty aroma.
One thing you might not yet know is that if you over-muddle your mint, it will taste bitter and not pleasant at all. So muddle your mint slowly and gently. Light treatment is better than overdoing it.
The second thing you might not know about mint is that most of its aromatic oils are in the stem, not the leaves. Therefore, keeping the sprig of mint will not only look better it also plays a crucial role in the composition of the drink.
- 2 oz Bourbon whiskey
- 8 Mint leaves
- 1 tsp Powdered sugar
- 2 tsp Water
- 1 Mint Sprig
- Add mint, sugar, and water into a Julep cup and gently muddle the mint. -Remember, only enough to release the oils and aroma.8 Mint leaves, 1 tsp Powdered sugar, 2 tsp Water
- Fill the Julep cup with crushed ice and stir until the cup looks frosted on the outside.2 oz Bourbon whiskey
- Top with more crushed ice, and don't forget to slap the mint sprig before garnishing your Mint Julep with it.1 Mint Sprig