The Kentucky Derby and the Mint Julep are tied closely together. But the minty, refreshing, slightly sweet 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 case, other versions of ice won't have the desired 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.
How to make a spectacular Mint Julep
The Mint Julep cocktail only has a few ingredients: Bourbon, min, sugar, and water. Nonetheless, there are some things you have to pay attention to. The first one is to choose the right Bourbon.
As the drink contains what feels like 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.
Some recipes state that mid-80 to 90 proof is enough but I don't find that ideal. Also, after consulting a couple of Kentucky Bartenders, it seems the locals share my opinion - thus, choosing a Bourbon of 100 proof or more is recommendable.
How to get the full mint flavor
Mint is the other main component of a 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 to keep in mind: if you over-muddle your mint, it will taste bitter and not pleasant at all. So muddle 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 is also necessary to make a perfect Mint Julep.
History of the Mint Julep
The term julep actually derives from the Spanish word "julepe" which means rosewater. Initially, it referred to a vehicle used to mask the bitter taste of medicine, for settling stomach aches, and such.
Consequently, the term "julep" is associated with a sweet drink.
The American Mint Julep, however, was created in the 18th century. The earliest mention is from 1770, printed in the Williamsburg Virginia Gazette. In the book Travels of four years and a half in the United States of America during 1798, 1799, 1800, 1801, and 1802 by the Brit John Davis, the Julep is described as "a dram of spirituous liquor that has mint steeped in it, taken by Virginians of a morning."
The Mint Julep and the Kentucky Derby
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- has been promoting the Mint Julep during the Kentucky Derby. And each year, they served more than 120,000 drinks in special collectible cups.
Ever since then, everybody associates the Mint Julep closely with the prestigious horse race, and it has gained nationwide popularity.
Here's another interesting fact: the original spirit in a Julep was most likely Cognac, not Whiskey. But due to the phylloxera epidemic in France, Cognac couldn't be exported for a while, and therefore was replaced by Bourbon. Something very similar happened to the Sazerac cocktail.
The Julep Cup
The Mint Julep traditionally is 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.
- 1 Jigger
- 1 Bar spoon
- 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
- Add the Bourbon and then 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