Though the mint julep was once described as “a dram of spirituous liquor that has mint in it, taken by Virginians in the morning,” it became a signature drink of the Kentucky Derby in 1938, when it was served in souvenir glasses, according to Cocktail Times. Now, an estimated 80,000 juleps are served during the two-day Derby. I’m hundreds of miles from Churchill Downs, the club founded by none other than Meriwether Lewis Clark, grandson of the American explorer William Clark, who went from Missouri to the west coast with Meriwether Lewis. But that hasn’t stopped me from tracking down and trying a Kentucky mint julep recipe.
The Southern Heritage Celebrations Cookbook (1983) devotes eight pages to Derby Day brunch and after-party recipes. Though Kentucky used to be a county of Virginia, the menu eschews the morning nip and proposes the juleps at the end of the day. But that’s just a suggestion, along with a highbrow menu that includes shrimp puffs, caviar canapes and escargots.
I couldn’t find the julep cup given to me after I pledged a high school sorority in Richmond, though I did unearth a tattered leather bracelet from the same era. I had more luck finding mint in my garden. There’s more than enough for a julep to sip during the Run for the Roses.
Kentucky Mint Julep (1983)
Makes 1 drink
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon water
4 fresh mint leaves
Finely crushed ice
3 ounces bourbon
1 fresh mint sprig
1. Combine the sugar, water and mint in a chilled julep cup; muddle gently until sugar dissolves.
2. Add enough finely crushed ice to fill the cup three quarters full. Add the bourbon and stir gently. Add additional crushed ice to fill the cup.
3. Freeze for at least 15 minutes.
4. Before serving, garnish with a fresh mint sprig.
Note: Mint juleps should be made individually and preferably in a julep cup.