You likely know that the Mint Julep is associated with the Kentucky Derby, one of the biggest sporting events of the year.

And you wouldn’t be wrong—the Mint Julep is indeed the official cocktail of the race, and more than 120,000 of them are consumed at Churchill Downs each year. But the drink didn’t become the official Kentucky Derby cocktail until 1938, and it wasn’t even originally made with bourbon.

This style of drink actually originated in the Arab world. The word “julep” can be derived from the Persian word “gulab” and the Arabic word “julab,” which were both drinks made with sweetened water and rose petals. As the beverage moved across the continents, Mediterranean folks replaced the rose with native mint. Like the origin of many alcoholic beverages, the Mint Julep started out as a medicine of sorts. Its first print mention was in 1803, when John Davis wrote about it in his book, Travels of Four Years and a Half in the United States of America. In the tome, he described the drink as “a dram of spirituous liquor that has mint steeped in it, taken by Virginians of a morning.”

Back then, the Mint Julep was likely made with cognac or rum, which was America’s most popular spirit at the time. It was a favored drink among U.S. presidents, which can be attributed to Kentucky Senator Henry Clay. He introduced the drink to Washington, D.C., in 1850, when he made it a popular libation at the Round Robin Bar in the Willard InterContinental Hotel. According to some, the bar still uses his original recipe to this day.

The modern Mint Julep is made with bourbon, simple syrup, and mint, and it’s served in a frosty silver Julep cup over crushed ice. While we do recommend the Julep cup if you have one available, this drink is just as tasty when sipped out of a lowball glass. We also recommend using overproof bourbon to give the drink a satisfying bite, but the 80-proof stuff will work just fine if you prefer a sweeter tipple.


The Perfect Mint Julep, elegant cocktail with garnish

The Perfect Mint Julep

Photo by Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Mint Julep

Ingredients:

  • 2.5 oz. Overproof Bourbon
  • .5 oz. Simple Syrup
  • 6 Mint Leaves
  • Mint Sprig (for Garnish)
  • Powdered Sugar (Optional)

Preparation: Add mint leaves and simple syrup to a chilled Julep cup. Muddle gently to release the oils, but be careful not to bruise the mint. Pack the glass with crushed ice and pour bourbon over ice. Stir to mix the ingredients, and fill the glass with more crushed ice. Garnish with a mint sprig and dusting of powdered sugar, if desired.