Brief History: First introduced by Kentucky’s own senator Henry Clay at the Round Robin Bar in the Willard Hotel, the mint julep has been a southern, summertime favorite since the late 1700s. The drink was originally prescribed and appears in literature as early as 1784 for “sickness at the stomach, with frequent retching, and, at times, the difficulty of swallowing.”
Composition: A mint julep is traditionally made with four ingredients: mint leaf, bourbon, simple syrup, and crushed ice. Customarily, spearmint is the mint of choice used in Southern states, and in Kentucky in particular. Proper preparation of the Mint Julep is frequently disputed, as preparation of this cocktail differs among bartenders. This cocktail is considered a member of a small family of drinks called “smashes,” in which fresh mint and other ingredients are crushed and combined to flavor the finished beverage. Additionally, this process helps to release essential oils and juices into the mixture, intensifying the flavor from the added ingredients.
The Kentucky Derby: Since 1938, The Mint Julep has been promoted by Churchill Downs as a staple of the infamous Kentucky Derby horse race. Each year almost 120,000 juleps are served at Churchill Downs over the two-day period of the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby. Most of the proceeds collected from sales of Churchill Downs’ Mint Julep are donated to support charitable causes that support retired racehorses.
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