Although the true origins of the mint julep are a bit cloudy, history would have it that the mint julep, as we know it today, originated in the southern United States, probably during the eighteenth century. U.S. Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky introduced the drink to Washington, D.C., at the Round Robin Bar in the famous Willard Hotel during his residence in the city.
The term “julep” is generally defined as a sweet drink, particularly one used as a vehicle for medicine. The word itself is derived from the Persian word Golâb, meaning rose water. Americans have not only enjoyed bourbon-based juleps over the centuries, but also gin-based juleps made with genever, an aged gin. In Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders Guide of 1887, you can find a recipe for the mint julep calling for alternate spirits like brandy, gin or whiskey.
Since 1938, Churchill Downs has promoted the mint julep has been promoted in association with the Kentucky Derby. Each year nearly 120,000 juleps are served over the two-day period of the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby.
Interestingly, the mint juleps served at the Kentucky Derby for the past 18 years do not contain bourbon, but whiskey, due to a contract with the Brown-Forman Corporation.
In keeping with all things authentic, and tradition, here is a recipe for an authentic bourbon mint julep. Enjoy!
Traditional Mint Julep Recipe: Kentucky Derby Style
- 1-1/2 parts Maker’s Mark Bourbon
- Fresh mint
- 2 tablespoons simple syrup* muddled with mint
- Splash of distilled water
- Powdered sugar
Directions: Mix together simple syrup* muddled with mint, Maker’s Mark® Bourbon and distilled water. Fill glass with crushed ice and pour mixture over top. Sprinkle top of ice with powdered sugar. Garnish with a mint sprig.
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup distilled water