The famous race may take mere minutes to run, but the entire Kentucky Derby would be incomplete without the race’s quintessential drink- the Mint Julep.
The name Mint Julep originally comes from a Persian drink called the gulab, which was enjoyed centuries ago and made with sweetened rose water and petals. In classical Arabic, the word became julab, though the recipe for the drink remained the same. From the Middle East, the refreshing drink then traveled to the Mediterranean where the rose petals were replaced with mint, an indigenous plant to the region, and the word once again transformed into Latin as julapium, eventually becoming julep.
Working its way across the Atlantic Ocean, the Julep was introduced to Washington D.C. by Henry Clay, U.S. Senator of Kentucky, in 1850. Rumor goes that Clay made the mint drink at the Round Robin Bar where it became insanely popular. It’s also rumored that the Willard Hotel in Washington D.C. continues to use Clay’s original recipe to this day.
In 1938, the Mint Julep became the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, and though it was once made with spirits like rum and brandy, today the standard spirit is Kentucky bourbon.
Over the years, we’ve crafted our own versions of the Mint Julep at Churchill Downs, and we create an entire beverage program that’s unique to the Derby each year. “This year, our beverage program is really focused on creating a memory in a glass,” said Nick Arenas, National Director of Beverage at Levy. “If you could bottle up a memory and put it in a glass, that’s what we try to create every single time. We’ve created killer cocktails for all of the different areas of Churchill Downs, so no matter where you are, you’re going to have a memorable and unique beverage experience.”
This year, we’ve also created a bourbon bar right inside the Turf Club at Churchill Downs. There’s a selection of 40-50 bourbons, some of which are household names and some are limited releases that won’t be seen anywhere but the 144th Kentucky Derby. “This bourbon bar is designed for folks who want to try bourbon in its truest form, they appreciate all things bourbon, and are keen to experience the bouquets, the notes, and the floral aspects of different bourbons,” Arenas said.
If you’re a fan of the classic Mint Julep, but want to experience a twist on the cocktail, we’ve also created a Kentucky Jule – a contemporary mashup of a Mint Julep and a Moscow Mule. As Arenas said, “it’s a truly refreshing cocktail that has subtle bites from the ginger, sweetness from the bourbon, and a floral note from the mint. It takes the best of the Mule and the best of the Mint Julep to create something new and delicious.”
Kentucky Jule – combination of Mint Julep and Moscow Mule
– 2oz. Kentucky Bourbon – Maker’s Mark, Wild Turkey, Buffalo Trace and Evan Williams are some great examples
– 8 fresh mint leaves
– 1 fresh lime wedge
– Ginger Beer – Gosling’s, Fever Tree and Owen’s Ginger + Lime are great choices
– Angostura Bitters
- Place 8 mint leaves on bottom of copper or stainless steel mug.
- Squeeze and drop in fresh lime wedge, 2 dashes of Angostura Bitters.
- Muddle for 2-3 seconds. Add 2 oz. Kentucky Bourbon of choice.
- Fill to top with fresh ice, fill with approximately 2-3 oz. Ginger Beer.
- Stir with bar spoon to pull muddled ingredients throughout the drink.
- Garnish with fresh mint sprig and fresh lime wedge, then enjoy!