Bourbon, sugar, water, and mint: It doesn’t get much simpler than that. The Mint Julep has become synonymous with the South, specifically, that first big Saturday of the month of May. In fact, the Julep has been the official drink of the Kentucky Derby for nearly 100 years. So where and how did this classic cocktail come about? And why is it the official drink of Derby Day?
The history of the Julep is pretty shaky, as PBS reports. Many believe that the drink’s name derives from the Persian word gulab (julab, in Arabic), meaning rosewater. But Julep was also the term used to describe thick concoctions consumed with medicine. In fact, the Julep eventually became prescribed for certain ailments! Most historians agree that the cocktail was created “within Virginia High Society,” according to PBS, around the early 19th century.
While created with various spirits in the past, this official Derby Day cocktail is generally made with bourbon nowadays, thanks to the race’s Kentucky location. True Mint Juleps are served in silver cups that form a thin layer of frost on the outside, keeping the drink optimally chilled. While the actual reasoning as to why the the Julep became the official drink of Churchill Downs in 1938 isn’t entirely clear, it’s pretty understandable considering the state’s renown for bourbon production. And really, you’re going to need a thirst-quenching, refreshing beverage under that sunny racetrack.
Click here for the classic Mint Julep recipe!