The first Saturday in May is the Kentucky Derby so the Mad Farmer and I thought it would be fun to do a Mint Julep for our May cocktail. We were busy the first Saturday in May, so we did not watch the Kentucky Derby. However, not watching does not equal not celebrating 😉
Since there is an event tied to the cocktail this month, right out of the gate it seemed reasonable to do a bit of research on the race and the drink. So first, a little information on the Derby.
The Derby was started by Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., grandson of William Clark of the William and Clark expedition [An interesting book about the Lewis and Clark expedition is called: Or Perish in the Attempt: Wilderness Medicine in the Lewis and Clark Expedition by Dr. David J. Peck. While it is out of print, you may be able to find a used copy]. Clark modeled the Kentucky Derby on the derby held at Epsom Downs, in England, that he saw while traveling abroad. That derby was started in 1780 by the 12th earl of Derby. The first Kentucky Derby was held in 1875 at Churchill Downs race track in Louisville, KY. The race is 3 year old thoroughbreds racing 1.25 miles. The original distance was 1.5 miles but was changed in 1896 after complaints that the distance was too long. It is the longest running sports event in the country.
In 1884, Clark gave the winner of the Derby roses. This tradition continued and in 1925 a sports writer dubbed the race the ‘Run for the Roses’ and it stuck. Later, in the 1930s, the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes were grouped together and called the Triple Crown. And, while everyone may not be familiar with the Preakness or the Belmont, most folks know that the Kentucky Derby is known for extravagant hats and mint juleps!
Well, it turns out that the julep has a very different beginning than what we currently know as the mint julep. For starters, it used to just be a julep., no mint – or bourbon. They were typically rum, water and sugar. The word julep is derived from a Persian word then it went to Arabic and then Latin and eventually we got to julep. The original Persian word meant sweetened rosewater. Early juleps were made with cognac or other French brandies. Sadly, an infection of grapevines in France in the mid 1880’s and an excise tax on American made brandies made whiskey the staple for the julep after the Civil War. The first reference to mint julep goes back to 1784 when they were used as medicine. The first print mention of the mint julep is 1803 in the book by John Davis called Travels of Four and a Half Years in the United States of America.
Fast forward a little bit, 1938 – and we find the mint julep becoming the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. Fast forward a bit more, 2015, and we find Old Forrester being the official whiskey. They serve 120,000 mint juleps at the Derby – yes, 120,000. The race is one lap around a track. I can’t imagine how many it would be if it were two!
Hope you have enjoyed our stroll through the history of the Kentucky Derby and its official drink, the mint julep. We are including two recipes for your enjoyment, one with cognac, and one with Old Forrester. If you have the time, mint, and patience, do make the mint simple syrup – it is delicious!
Please, drink responsibly, and get into the spirit of things!
The Old Forester Mint Julep Recipe from KentuckyDerby.com
· 2 cups sugar
· 2 cups water
· Sprigs of fresh mint
· Crushed ice
· Old Forester Straight Bourbon Whisky
Make a simple syrup by boiling sugar and water together for five minutes. Cool and place in a covered container with six or eight sprigs of fresh mint, then refrigerate overnight.
Make one julep at a time by filling a julep cup with crushed ice, adding one tablespoon mint syrup and two ounces of Old Forester Kentucky Whisky.
Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.
Cognac Mint Julep from Hennessy.com
1.75 oz Cognac
8 mint leaves
.5 oz simple syrup
1 fresh mint branch to garnish
Place the mint leaves in a tall julep glass and gently press the mint leaves with a pestle (or spoon) to release the oils. Add the simple syrup and cognac. Stir completely and finish with crushed ice. Garnish with mint.