What's the Connection Between Mint Juleps and the Kentucky Derby?

24th Mar 2022

You can thank the folks from the 1937 Churchill Downs Kentucky Derby planning committee for cementing the famous drink as the official beverage of the even-more-famous horse race. However, it wasn't the first time that the drink itself was associated with the event. It's just that prohibition kept this activity away from the press, and outside of the clubhouses, for that period.

A longtime master distiller for one of Kentucky's highly regarded bourbons is Chris Morris, who explains further during a Good Morning America interview. "When prohibition was repealed", says Morris, "That act simply recognized... that Kentuckians had been enjoying mint juleps while attending the horse races since the early 19th century, if not earlier."

It wasn't until 1937 that Churchill Downs started serving this popular drink in special souvenir cups, but according to Morris, the first written mention of a mint julep cup being awarded as a horse racing trophy was as early as 1816. "That is proof that juleps were both highly prized and associated with horse racing," Morris said.

Early mint julep cups were made from either silver or pewter, and there are still two main styles of julep cups: one with a beaded rim and the other showcasing "bands" at the top of the cup.

How do you make the classic drink? Read these early instructions from a 1908 Chicago Tribune article about the mint julep: "Take a silver cup – always a silver cup. Fill it with ice, pulverized to the fineness of snow. Bruise one tender leaf of mint and stick it in the ice. Next, dissolve a spoonful of sugar in about three-quarters of a Kentucky drink of good whisky (bourbon) and let the fluid filter through the ice to the bottom of the cup. Shake the cup slowly until a coating of thick white frost forms on the outside. Trim with mint and hand to an appreciative gentleman."

We, of course, would say there are plenty of appreciative ladies, too.

Are you looking for a way to fully appreciate a mint julep at home? You can choose from any of our fine Pewter Mint Julep Cups, find yourself some fine bourbon and a few fresh mint leaves and some sugar, and you will be well on your way. For a more modern take on this iconic Kentucky Derby drink, you can watch this fun and informative video:

If you need help deciding which julep cup best fits your home bar needs, don't hesitate to ask for help – we're always ready to assist you in finding your next keepsake pewter piece! Give us a call today.