Mint Julep

The Mint Julep has been the iconic drink of the Kentucky Derby since 1939, but references to the cocktail go as far back as the year 900, when it was sipped for medicinal purposes. When New Orleans bartender Chris McMillian was at Bar UnCommon, he recited an ode while mixing Mint Juleps, written in the 1890s by a Kentucky newspaperman, that calls the bourbon and mint cocktail "the very dream of drinks." More Classic Cocktails

Mint Julep
Photo: Photo by Huge Galdones / Food Styling by Christina Zerkis
1 drink

When it comes to signature cocktails from sporting events, the Mint Julep is perhaps the most iconic, and certainly one of the most delicious. The Mint Julep has been the drink of the Kentucky Derby since 1939, but references to the cocktail go as far back as the year 900, when people sipped it for medicinal purposes. The word "julep" originates in the Middle East from the Spanish Arabic term "julepe," as well as the Persian word golab, which translates to rosewater. Both terms refer to sweetened syrups that helped mask the taste of astringent medicines. The Mint Julep's inception in the American south tell a similar origin story where sweetened syrups flavored with mint can be found in prescription records from the late 1700s.

In the 1800s, the drink's fame moved from the pharmacy to the bar, and eventually, to the racetrack. Unsurprisingly, the rise in popularity in the cocktail coincided with the increase in prevalence of ice houses in bars and taverns. The chilled cocktail, served in a silver cup filled to the brim with chipped ice, was a welcome respite from the heat of South. For much of the 1800s, the Mint Julep was actually consumed as a morning cocktail — how this trend hindered the rise of the American industry remains unconfirmed.

The celebratory cocktail has been served since the late 1930s at the Kentucky Derby, the legendary horse race held annually at the Churchill Downs racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky. Served from morning till night at the all-day sporting event, the signature cocktail is just one of many old-world Southern touches that make the Kentucky Derby memorable and unique (looking at you, over-the-top Derby hats).

Though there are a few regional variations, to make a Mint Julep mint leaves are muddled to express their fragrant essential oils and simple syrup and bourbon are added. Finally, the cup is filled with chipped ice and garnished with a sprig of mint. While Kentucky whiskey or bourbon is the spirit of choice for a contemporary Mint Julep, historically gin, brandy, cognac, or even rum have all been used as well. Although first Saturday in May might be the most iconic day to sip a Mint Julep (that's the Kentucky Derby, of course), the refreshing cocktail is welcome year-round.


  • 8 mint leaves, plus mint sprigs for garnish

  • 1/2 ounce Simple Syrup

  • 2 ounces bourbon, preferably overproof

  • Crushed ice


  1. In a chilled julep cup or fizz glass, muddle the mint leaves and Simple Syrup. Add the bourbon and crushed ice. Set a swizzle stick or bar spoon in the cup and spin between your hands to mix. Top with additional crushed ice and garnish with the mint sprigs.


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