April 11, 2006, Louisville, KY — Nothing is more refreshing than sipping on a mint julep while watching the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May. Served in an ice-cold sterling silver cup with the aromatic smell of mint and bourbon, the mint julep is the quintessential Southern beverage. “The julep has its roots, surprisingly, in the Arab world,” said Chris Morris, Master Distiller for Woodford Reserve Bourbon and American spirits historian.
Certainly, no Kentucky Derby would be complete without this venerable cocktail. Woodford Reserve Bourbon is the “Official Bourbon” of the 132nd Run for the Roses and for Churchill Downs. Every year, the historic racetrack serves more than 116,000 mint juleps between Oaks and Derby Day. That tradition will continue on May 6, 2006, for the 132nd Kentucky Derby.
“Centuries ago, there was an Arabic drink called julab, made with water and rose petals,” said Morris. “The beverage had a delicate and refreshing scent that people thought would instantly enhance the quality of their lives.” When the julab was introduced to the Mediterranean region, the native population replaced the rose petals with mint, a plant indigenous to the area. The mint julep, as it was now called, grew in popularity throughout Europe.
“The biggest change for the julep was the addition of American whiskey to the recipe,” said Morris. “The flavorful American whiskey perfectly complemented the mint julep. The julep was quickly transformed into a mixture of water, sugar, mint leaves, and good American whiskey.”
The drink’s popularity came to rest in the agricultural regions of the east and southeast, where farmers awakened at dawn.
“You see, the julep was originally a morning drink. It was the spirited equivalent of coffee in today’s society. Just the drink needed to get the morning started and the ultimate picker-upper,” said Morris.
Like the farmers, the horse trainers were up early and would prepare the julep first thing in the morning. Through the years, the drink started showing up at regional horse races, where the mint julep made the transition from a morning drink to a “sipping” cocktail.
“Through all of the years and all of the changes, one thing has remained constant — the mint julep is one of the most aromatically pleasing concoctions ever created,” said Morris. “And, does it ever taste good!”
Chris Morris’ Mint Julep Recipe
3-5 mint leaves
1t Powdered Sugar
2 — 2 1/2 oz. Woodford Reserve Bourbon
Muddle (stir/gentle crush) four mint springs and sugar in the bottom of a julep glass. Add water, continuing to muddle contents to a paste. Add Woodford Reserve Bourbon. Pack the julep glass with crushed ice. Garnish with a mint spring for and don’t forget the sipping straw.
If a metal julep cup is used, be sure to use a wooden muddler (bottom of a wooden spoon) instead of metal spoon to eliminate the possibility of scratching your julep cup.