The Refreshing History of the Mint Julep
The Mint Julep originated in the south as a medical concoction used by doctors in the late 1700s. It was first recorded as a prescription in a 1784 book called Medical Communications, under the following passage: “sickness at the stomach, with frequent retching, and, at times, a difficulty of swallowing. I then prescribed her an emetic, some opening powders, and a mint julep.” What a time to be alive. I tried, but I couldn’t get my doctor to prescribe me a mint julep!
At first they were considered a luxury that was only afforded to the wealthy, as having ice on hand was not common for average people, and they were served out of silver or pewter cups. But by 1820, the drink gained rapid popularity in Virginia and soon became considered part of their identity as Virginians. They were served in taverns everywhere, and many taverns started adding ice houses (a special out building designed to store ice before the invention of refrigerators) in order to serve them. They even had assigned a man named Jasper Crouch as the master of Mint Juleps. Not sure what that means? Neither were we until we did some extra research. Apparently he was one of Richmond’s prominent mixologists, and was recognized by the locals and the newspapers as the best Mint Julep mixer in town. Clearly they very much loved this drink.
The Mint Julep continued to be popular and spread throughout the country, where it eventually found its way to the Kentucky Derby. And, as you may know, it became the official drink of the Derby in 1938. Julep cups were first recorded as prizes for horse races as early as 1816, which is what first established the link between Juleps and horse racing. And the drink was enjoyed at the Derby for many decades before it became the official drink. Churchill Downs (the organization that puts on the Derby) even planted mint outside the clubhouse as early as 1875 in order to have enough for racegoers to sip on them all afternoon long.
Nowadays over 120,000 Mint Juleps are served at the Kentucky Derby each year. What’s more American than bourbon and horse racing? This drink is one of the few that is purely an American invention and embodies patriotism and the American spirit through tradition, innovation, quality, and just a good ole’ fashioned party!
Here’s to you, and here’s to America! Cheers!
This is a simple drink that has essentially stayed the same since it’s invention. There are slight variations of course, depending on the region and the mixologist’s preference. The most significant one, in our opinion, is whether or not to mix the meddled mint leaves in with the crushed ice. Most recipes say to leave the muddled mint leaves in, but some say to strain them out before adding the ice so they don’t clog the straw. We prefer to leave them in, but we’ll let you decide.
*Important note: Although typical muddling requires you to press and turn, when muddling mint leaves you do not want to do the running motion and grind them up. Simply press them in order to release their natural flavors.
What you’ll need:
- 8 mint leaves + 1 mint sprig for garnish
- 1/4 ounce simple syrup
- 2 ounces bourbon
- Crushed ice
Gently muddle mint leaves and simple syrup in the bottom of a julep cup, then add the bourbon and pack with ice. Swirl it all around in the cup so that it gets frosty, then add more ice to the top. Garnish with the mint sprig.