No Kentucky Derby celebration is complete without a mint julep. The boozy concoction has been around since the 1700s when it was touted as a medicinal drink.
Joy Perrine, bar manager at Equus and Jack’s Lounge in Louisville, is a legend in the bourbon industry. She shared some advice on making the perfect mint julep with Kentucky Life’s Amy Hess.
“Mint Julep is basically sugar, water, fresh mint—and when I say fresh mint I mean spearmint, not peppermint—and Kentucky Bourbon,” says Perrine. “Peppermint has a tendency to be very sharp, almost bitter, whereas spearmint is soft and a little on the sweet side.”
Michael Veach, Bourbon Historian at the Filson Historical Society, explains that in its early days, the sweet and minty julep was the way to start the day.
“In the 1700s and early 1800s people would drink their mint juleps as a way to get up and going,” says Veach. “[Juleps were] a morning pick-me-up.”
The presentation of the mint julep is almost as important as the ingredients that go into it.
“When you’re coming over the mountains or down the Ohio River in the 1780s to Kentucky, when you went to an inn, you carried your own cup with you,” says Veach. “Most of them were probably stoneware or pewter. You would get your julep made in your own cup. As people began to prosper they would still carry their cups, but they would update them to a silver cup. That’s where the traditional silver cups come from.”
Since 1939, Derby-goers have had their mint juleps in collectable glasses, but the silver cup is a centuries-old tradition that still exists today.
“My grandfather started making [julep cups] during the Harry Truman administration,” says Matthew Burnett, CFO of Wakefield-Scearce Galleries in Shelbyville. “The reason we say during the Truman administration is because they’re called Presidential Julep Cups. We send cups out to every president to say congratulations.”
Closer to home, Kentucky’s governor traditionally makes a toast to the winner of the Kentucky Derby each year with a mint julep in a silver cup.
This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #1918, which originally aired on May 4, 2014. Watch the full episode.