Mint julep

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This article is about the cocktail. For the film, see Mint Julep (film). For the song, see One Mint Julep.
Mint julep
IBA Official Cocktail
Mint Julep im Silberbecher.jpg
A mint julep served in the traditional silver cup.
Type Cocktail
Primary alcohol by volume
Served On the rocks; poured over ice
Standard garnish

Mint sprig

Standard drinkware
Highball Glass (Tumbler).svg
Highball glass
IBA specified ingredients*
Preparation In a highball glass gently muddle the mint, sugar and water. Fill the glass with cracked ice, add Bourbon and stir well until the glass is well frosted. Garnish with a mint sprig.
* Mint julep recipe at International Bartenders Association

The mint julep is a mixed alcoholic drink, or cocktail, consisting primarily of bourbon (or some other spirit) and fresh mint. As a bourbon-based cocktail, it is associated with the American South and the cuisine of the Southern United States in general, and the Kentucky Derby in particular.


A mint julep is traditionally made with four ingredients: mint leaf, bourbon, sugar, and water. Traditionally, spearmint is 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. By another method, 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.[1] 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.


A mint julep

The origins of the mint julep are clouded and may never be definitively known. The mint julep was originally prescribed and appears in literature as early as 1784 "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."[2] An appearance of a mint julep in print came in a book by John Davis published in London in 1803, where it was described as "a dram of spirituous liquor that has mint steeped in it, taken by Virginians of a morning."[3] However, Davis did not specify that bourbon was the spirit used. The traditional Virginia recipe as served at the "Old White" is described

...the famous old barroom, which was approached by a spiral staircase. Here in this dark, cool room, scented with great masses of fragrant mint that lay upon mountains of crushed ice, in the olden days were created the White Sulphur mint julep and the Virginia toddy, for which this place was famous the world over. The mint juleps were not the composite compounds of the present day. They were made of the purest French brandy, limestone water, old-fashioned cut loaf sugar, crushed ice, and young mint the foliage of which touched your ears...Here, in this old room, was uttered that famous remark of the Governor of North Carolina to the Governor of South Carolina. "It is a long time between drinks."[4]

The mint julep 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.[5] 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 گلاب (Golâb), meaning rose water. Americans enjoyed not only bourbon-based juleps during the nineteenth century, but also gin-based juleps made with genever, an aged gin. Jerry Thomas' Bartenders Guide (1887) includes a recipe for the mint julep allowing for brandy, gin or whiskey.

Recently, however, bourbon-based juleps have decisively eclipsed gin-based juleps.[6]

The Kentucky Derby[edit]

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.[7]

In a contract arrangement between the Brown-Forman Corporation and Churchill Downs that has lasted more than 18 years, the Early Times Mint Julep Cocktail has been the designated "official mint julep of the Kentucky Derby," although the Early Times sold within the United States is a Kentucky whiskey, not a bourbon.

Since 2006, Churchill Downs has also served extra-premium custom-made mint juleps at a cost of $1000 each at the Kentucky Derby. These mint juleps were served in gold-plated cups with silver straws, and were made from Woodford Reserve bourbon, mint imported from Ireland, spring water ice cubes from the Bavarian Alps, and sugar from Australia. The proceeds were used to support charitable causes dedicated to retired race horses. Woodford Reserve and Early Times are sister brands produced by Brown-Forman, and under the terms of its current marketing agreement with Churchill Downs, Woodford Reserve is called the "official bourbon" of the derby.

In May 2008, Churchill Downs unveiled the world's largest mint julep glass. Churchill Downs, in conjunction with Brown-Forman, commissioned the Weber Group to fabricate the 6-foot (1.8 m) tall glass (7.5-foot (2.3 m) if the mint sprig is included). The glass was constructed from FDA food-grade acrylic, heated and molded into the shape of an official 2008 Derby glass. It had a capacity of 206 US gallons (780 l; 172 imp gal), and distributed the Early Times mint juleps at the Derby with an elaborate pumping system concealed within the "stir straw."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Mint Julep Ritual". 1937-03-30. Retrieved 2010-07-30. 
  2. ^ Medical communications: Volume 1 - Page 242 by Society for Promoting Medical Knowledge in 1784
  3. ^ Davis, John (1803). Travels of Four Years and a Half in the United States of America. p. 379. Retrieved 2009-05-04. 
  4. ^ MacCorkle, William A., The White Sulphur Springs, the Traditions, History, and Social Life of the Greenbrier White Sulphur Springs, Neale Publishing Co., NY, 1916, pg. 66
  5. ^ See Nickell, p. 31, for Clay's recipe, taken from his diary.
  6. ^ Summer Drinks Issue - A Guide to Bartending When the Frost is on the Glass - NY Times
  7. ^ "Derby Experience-Mint Julep". Churchill Downs Inc. Archived from the original on 2008-01-09. Retrieved 28 December 2008. 


  • Domine, David. Adventures in New Kentucky Cooking with the Bluegrass Peasant (Kuttawa, KY: McClanahan Publishing House), 2007 ISBN 0-913383-97-X
  • The Mint Julep: The Very Dream of Drinks, from the Old Receipt of Soule Smith, down in Lexington, Kentucky (Lexington, KY: The Gravesend Press), 1949. [reprinted in 1964]
  • Nickell, Joe. The Kentucky Mint Julep (Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky), 2003. ISBN 0-8131-2275-9
  • Thompson, Hunter S., "The Kentucky Derby"

External links[edit]