The Mint Julep has long been associated with the Kentucky Derby, which occurs every year on the first Saturday of May. Mint Juleps are said to be “the one and only drink for the Derby!”

There is a long history surrounding the drink which has strong Southern origins. Chris Morris, Master Distiller at Woodford Reserve, wrote, “The Mint Julep has a long history, and in the 1800s it was considered a morning drink. People working on horse farms or in the horse-racing industry during this time period may wake up with aches and pains. You didn’t have aspirin and other pain medication in those days, so you would make a Mint Julep; bourbon to soothe your aches and pains, sugar to give you some energy, and mint to help open the eyes!” How the mint julep came to be the Kentucky Derby’s signature drink is said to have started with ’U.S. Senator Henry Clay (of Kentucky) when he introduced the mint julep to friends at the Round Robin Bar in Washington, D.C. and it soon became popular enough to showcase at the Derby.

The cocktail is simple and most often served in a nice glass with a straw and a “corsage” of mint to adorn the beverage. “Historically, juleps were a sign of prosperity, Ice was a commodity, and so when you wanted to entertain or show people you were in society, you showed people you had ice. If you had crushed ice piled high in a glass, you were really doing well.” So crushed is a must!

This is a fabulous cocktail, enjoyed on any given day. But I imagine in the Southern heat, this is an incredibly refreshing beverage to sip while watching horses race for a whole two minutes.

Makes one cocktail


  • 5-6 fresh mint leaves (torn), plus more for garnish
  • ounce simple syrup (we used mint simple syrup)
  • a splash of cold water
  • 2-1/2 ounces bourbon (The Derby’s bourbon of choice is Woodford Reserve)
  • crushed ice
To the bottom of a lowball serving glass, add mint leaves and simple syrup. Muddle together with a muddler or handle of a wooden spoon.  Top with plenty of crushed ice, then pour in splash of cold water, and bourbon.  Stir, garnish with a big sprig of mint.