Sweet and smooth, minty and icy-cool, and with the kind of kick you’d expect from a fine Kentucky bourbon. Since 1938, the Mint Julep has been the official drink of the Kentucky Derby – this year taking place on Sat., May 5 – but this bourbon-based beverage has been served at Churchill Downs during the “greatest two minutes in sports” for a century and stretches back even farther, to the 18th century.
April is Mint Julep Month, which means it’s time to brush up on some Mint Julep fun facts and trivia – about the drink and the cup in which it is traditionally served:
-The Mint Julep is typically served in a silver or pewter cup (a Collins or high ball glass can be subbed in) and held by the rim or at the bottom.
-Shelbyville’s Wakefield-Scearce Galleries is home to the Presidential Mint Julep Cup, the prototype of which was created by Mark J. Scearce, who co-founded the Galleries in 1947.
-The design of the Presidential Mint Julep Cups is based on a pattern created by a 19th century Shelbyville silversmith that featured beaded top and bottom borders. Signature markings include an eagle cartouche combined with the initials of the current U.S. president on the bottom of the cup.
-Wakefield-Scearce Galleries’ Mint Julep cups are a favorite special occasion gift. Prices range from $65 for a pewter cup to $850 for a sterling cup to $1,330 for a tall cup with horseshoe (the latter is currently out of stock).
-The ambassador to England ordered a cup engraved with young Prince George’s name on it as well as the date he was christened and presented it as a gift to the possible next King of England.
-The best, most authentic Mint Julep is made with Kentucky bourbon.
-The traditional recipe calls for mint leaves and sugar to be crushed, or muddled, to release the mint oil and flavor.
-The number of Mint Juleps served over the 2-day period including the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby is 120,000-plus and requires 1,000 lbs. of freshly harvested mint and 60,000 lbs. of ice, give or take.
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Can’t make the Derby? You can whip up and enjoy this delicious Kentucky fave at home. Here is a recipe, provided by Kentucky Tourism:
Derby Day Mint Julep
Ingredients 1 1/2 cups packed chopped mint 1 cup water 1/2 cup sugar Julep cups or tall glasses Kentucky bourbon Mint sprigs Shaved ice
Directions The day before, make the minted simple syrup: Chop mint, including stems (much of mint’s flavor is in the stems). Put sugar and water in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil and stir until all the sugar is dissolved; add mint. Remove from heat, allow mixture to come to room temperature, then strain mixture through clean cheesecloth to remove any bits of cooked mint. For each julep, take a cup, or tall glass, and fill with shaved ice. Pour in a jigger of bourbon and top with the simple syrup; stir gently. Add a sprig or two of mint and serve. Yields 4-6 servings.
Did You Know? Each new United States President receives a Wakefield-Scearce Presidential Mint Julep Cup bearing his initials and hand-engraved on the side with the Presidential Seal. To date, every presidential recipient has sent a personal letter of thanks, except for one: Bill Clinton. The letters are on display at the Galleries.