Why Do People Drink Mint Juleps for the Kentucky Derby?

mint julep and kentucky derby, history, recipe, why

Mint Julep is the drink of choice at Churchill Downs. (Getty)

Mint Juleps have long been associated with the Kentucky Derby festivities. According to the Kentucky Derby, an estimated 120,000 Mint Juleps are served at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks Friday and Kentucky Derby Saturday.

The drink’s ties to the Kentucky Derby can be traced back to a struggling bourbon industry during the 1930’s, but it did not start out as a festive drink. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the drink was originally given to prevent diseases and provide pain relief from body aches. The original drink had a brandy base.

Virginia is where the drink got its start and its popularity spread throughout the country. A brandy shortage caused many people to begin using bourbon in the drink. The presence of the ice machine added crushed ice to the recipe, and it began to be thought of as a luxurious drink.

As the popularity of the drink began to decrease, the bourbon industry was looking to increase sales. Kentucky author Irvin S. Cobb wrote “Irvin S. Cobb’s Own Recipe Book.” The book helped the reader envision the Mint Julep as an iconic Southern drink.

In 1938, it was named the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. According to Cocktail Times, Churchill Downs served the drink in a souvenir cup and charged 75 cents per drink.

Here’s a recipe courtesy of the Kentucky Derby:
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
Sprigs of fresh mint
Crushed ice
Old Forester Straight Bourbon Whisky
Silver Julep Cups

SB Nation provides a tutorial on making the drink in this video: