Not every sporting event has its own official beverage. But the Kentucky Derby is not your typical sporting event. Mint juleps are as central to the Derby experience as big hats, formal attire, and staring bewildered at a betting card, trying to remember exactly what a “superfecta” is.
While we can’t give you much insight into the gambling part, we’re much more confident when it comes to the julep side of things. The name of the cocktail originates in the Arab world, where julab was a sweet, refreshing drink made with water and rose petals. In North America, it soon became linked with the South, where it began to be widely consumed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in Virginia, Kentucky, and Washington D.C. Instead of rose petals, Southerners used mint, and instead of water, they substituted sturdier stuff like rum, brandy, or whiskey.
Even President Teddy Roosevelt was reportedly a big fan of the julep, harvesting mint from the White House garden for his tipples. He had the right idea; fresh mint is imperative to a good julep, so do everything you can to get your hands on the good stuff.
A note on glassware: The Kentucky Derby always takes place on the first Saturday in May. It’s usually quite warm in Kentucky by then, which means spectators are in the mood for something refreshing. That’s one reason juleps are traditionally served in silver or pewter tumblers, which quickly develop a thin layer of frost on the exterior. Even if it’s not enough to actually take the temperature down a notch, at least drinkers’ hands can enjoy the chill.
Recipe by mixologist Nic Christiansen, Single Barrel Program Manager and Assistant Blender at Barrell Craft Spirits
● 2 oz Barrell Bourbon Batch 028
● 1 barspoon demerara syrup (made using a 2:1 ratio of demerara sugar to water)
● Several sprigs of fresh mint
● Crushed or shaved ice
● Julep cup
Start by rubbing a few sprigs of fresh mint on the inside of your dry julep cup to release aromatic oils and begin building aroma. Add the bourbon and demerara syrup to your glass, and stir to blend. Over-fill the julep cup with crushed ice, creating a domed top. Tuck a generous bouquet of fresh mint into the glass as garnish, then dust with powdered sugar.