How to make the perfect mint julep for the Kentucky Derby

September 4th, 2020

For such a simple, four-ingredient cocktail, there are countless theories on how to make the perfect mint julep.

The famous libation of the Kentucky Derby has been poured and consumed at Churchill Downs since the late 1800s, but its history dates back much further.

The earliest reference to the julep can be found in a Persian text from 900 C.E., in which the drink is described as a medicinal remedy comprised of violets soaked in sugar.

By the 18th century, people began indulging in the refreshment both recreationally and for medicinal purposes — mainly to treat stomach aches. Depending on the region, juleps were mixed with fruit brandy, rye, rum, or moonshine, and honey or sorghum syrup sweetened the taste.

In the 1800s, Virginia’s genteel society sipped the sugary potion as a morning restorative, similar to coffee. From there, the mint julep, as we know it today, began to develop.

In 1875, the concoction reached Churchill Downs, when it hosted the first Kentucky Derby.

Prohibition briefly got in the way, but after the alcohol ban ended, the mint julep became the official drink of the Run for the Roses.

Since then, the mint julep has been served at Churchill Downs in everything from collector’s glasses to gold-plated cups. A typical mint julep will run you $10 at the track, but if you want the gilded kind, you’ll need to fork up $2,500 (proceeds go to charity).

On a typical year, nearly 120,000 mint juleps are mixed over a two-day period, during the Kentucky Oaks and Derby race days.

If you’re making a mint julep at home, there’s an easy way to enjoy the drink.

All you need is water, sugar, bourbon, and mint.

Whether you want to add a dash of honey, hint of violet, or stir in another liquor, is up to you. But at its core, this time-honored tradition couldn’t be simpler.

Classic mint julep recipe

  • 2 oz. bourbon
  • 1/2 oz. simple syrup
  • 3 fresh mint leaves
  • crushed Ice


Muddle the mint inside the glass, then add simple syrup, bourbon, and crushed ice. Stir. Garnish with fresh mint and more ice.

Simple syrup can be made by adding one part sugar, one part water to a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved, then allow to cool before pouring.