Mint Juleps are the drink of choice at the Kentucky Derby. The Kentucky Derby odds might not be in your favor, but mint juleps will. They are delicious and need only a few ingredients: bourbon, water, sugar and mint. Please note the following: I do not own a traditional silver mint julep cup and neither does anyone I know. I prefer to use an old fashioned glass for my “home style” julep. I also do not keep any of those little swizzle straws you find in bars in my cupboard. So, here is my non-traditional-made-at-home mint julep with simple syrup.
Juleps originated in the southern US. What I find intriguing is the provenance of the word Julep. My research tells me that this is a derivative of the Persian word golab which means rose water. The connection is a liquid infused with a plant oil or fragrance. Juleps belong to a class of drink called “smashes” because of the muddling the mint leaves in the glass. The smashing of the leaves releases the oils thus enhancing the flavor.
You do not want to be too aggressive with the muddling or you will release the chlorophyll cells and change the flavor. You really only need to slightly crush the surface of the leaf and combine with the simple syrup. Approximately 120,000 juleps are served at each Kentucky Derby. Now, that’s a lot of mint muddling!!
Juleps at the Derby
The Kentucky Derby is famous not only for very fancy hats, but also for its “most expensive” juleps which can cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,000. The ingredients are carefully chosen hence the cost. For example, one year sugar from a small plantation in Madagascar producing only a limited amount of pounds per year was chosen for the simple syrup. Proceeds from the sale of the juleps goes to fund a charity for older horses.
When you first open bourbon it’s always a good idea to take a small sip just to be sure it’s OK. Interestingly, I’ve never once found a bad bottle. Anyhow, the tradition of the mint julep goes back to 1938. The Libbey company of Toledo, Ohio was the supplier of the glasses the mint juleps were served in. When juleps were first introduced, the management at Churchill Downs soon noticed that the glasses were disappearing. You guessed it!!! Customers were taking them as souvenirs. To curb theft, management instituted a .25c charge for the glass. Apparently it worked. To this day the Libbey Company is the supplier of glasses to Churchill Downs.
The famous sterling cup used today showing an emblem of a horseshoe was introduced in 1951 and holds 12 fluid ounces. I always look forward to the Kentucky Derby and my delicious mint julep. I am hoping that the mint in my backyard decides to wake up from its winter nap just in time.
The mint julep recipe I share with you today is made with Woodford Reserve Bourbon, the bourbon of choice at the Kentucky Derby and homemade simple syrup that I keep in my reCAP Mason Jar.
If you want to explore some interesting cocktails here are a few more to try or bookmark for later. One of my favorite summer cocktails is this blue margarita made with fresh lemon juice. If you like rum then you have to try the Hemingway daiquiri and enjoy the history of this classic cocktail. If you like something a little sweeter then break out the blender and enjoy the tropical flavors of my frozen mango with mint cocktail.
Mint Julep Cocktail Recipe - How to Muddle and Mix
Here is a classic mint julep recipe I serve for my Kentucky Derby gathering. This cocktail has an interesting history with the silver cup used at the derby I think you'll enjoy along with the drink!
- 2.5 oz bourbon Woodford Reserve is traditional
- 1/2 ounce simple syrup
- 8-10 mint leaves
- 1/2 cup crushed ice
For the simple syrup: ( makes a large batch)
1 cup sugar & 1/2 cup water
Rinse mint leaves and place in a cocktail glass. Gently muddle the mint leaves with the simple syrup. Fill the glass with crushed ice, add bourbon and stir. Enjoy!!!
- Simple syrup: Mix water and sugar in a microwaveable glass measuring vessel. Microwave on high for about 2 minutes. Remove promptly and stir until dissolved. Allow to cool and store in the refrigerator.