The Iconic Mint Julep

The iconic Mint Julep is a must-have on Kentucky Derby Day.  A simple drink with decades of nostalgia.  A mint julep is traditionally made with four ingredients: mint leaf, bourbon, sugar syrup, and crushed ice.

Lake Martin Mint Julep

Spearmint is typically the mint of choice used in Southern states, and in Kentucky in particular. Proper preparation of the cocktail is commonly debated, as methods may vary considerably from one bartender to another. The mint julep may be considered a member of a loosely associated family of drinks called "smashes" (the brandy smash is another example, as well as the mojito), in which fresh mint and other ingredients are muddled or crushed in preparation for flavoring the finished drink. The step further releases essential oils and juices into the mixture, intensifying the flavor from the added ingredient or ingredients.

Traditionally, mint juleps were often served in silver or pewter cups, and held only by the bottom and top edges of the cup. This allows frost to form on the outside of the cup. Traditional hand placement may have arisen as a way to reduce the heat transferred from the hand to the silver or pewter cup. Today, mint juleps are most commonly served in a tall old-fashioned glass, Collins glass, or highball glass with a straw.

The mint julep originated in the southern United States, probably during the eighteenth century.Several aspects of the mint julep combine to mark its provider out as of the elite, beyond the mere ability to offer a drink: firstly, to have ice meant either ownership of an ice house or wealth to buy ice, an expensive commodity in the American south.Second, the traditional silver (not silver-plated) cup is a mark of wealth. Thirdly, one needed a servant to make and serve the drink - a trusty servant who could have access to your ice house, your whiskey, and your silver; a skilled servant who could produce the properly frosted cup.

The mint julep has been promoted by Churchill Downs in association with the Kentucky Derby since 1938. Each year almost 120,000 juleps are served at Churchill Downs over the two-day period of the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby, virtually all of them in specially made Kentucky Derby collectible glasses.


        1/2 oz. superfine sugar

        1 oz. hot water

        8 mint leaves, plus one mint sprig

        2 oz. bourbon

Dissolve the sugar in the water in an old-fashioned glass (or julep cup, of course). Add the mint leaves and press them lightly with a spoon — you want to seduce the oil from the mint leaves, not beat it out of them. Add the bourbon, fill the glass with cracked ice, and stir. Plant the mint sprig in the ice alongside a short straw, and serve.