A Spoon Full of Bourbon Helps the Medicine Go Down

Would it surprise you to know,  juleps (a derivative of the Arabic word julab meaning rosewater) have been around a long time. Wikipedia gives a great little history on the julep. “The term “julep” is generally defined as a sweet drink, particularly one used as a vehicle for medicine. English juleps, using rosewater, as opposed to later American mint juleps, were primarily medicinal, lightly alcoholic, and often contained camphor.” The people of the American South changed out the rosewater with mint as it grew like weeds along their waterways.  The mint was enough to chase away any bitter medicine taste, it was safer to drink than the questionable water sources of the day and even better, the drink was known to keep the bugs away. As legend has it, “Southerners started each day with a mint julep to protect themselves from mosquitoes and malaria. The drink was so delicious, though, that it became a relaxing beverage, in addition to a medicinal one.”

From Medicine to the White House

It seems nothing lubricates the wheels of progress like a little Bourbon.  At least that is what Kentucky Statesman, Henry Clay, was banking on. According to the historians at The Henry Clay Center, it was almost 200 years ago that Clay arrived in Washington, D.C. with a barrel of Kentucky Bourbon.

“Clay felt Americans must be willing to talk with each other and to assist him in starting conversations, he brought with him one of his state’s most iconic products – a barrel of Kentucky Bourbon – believing Bourbon could “lubricate the wheels of government.”

Clay did one better by holding court and serving Mint Juleps to Washington’s movers and shakers at the Willard Hotel. The bartenders in the Round Robin bar knew the Kentucky Statesman and his drink very well and each crush of the mint was slowly and surely making Kentucky Bourbon a staple in Washington D.C. To this day, the Mint Julep is still the Round Robin’s Signature Drink.

Bourbon is Off to the Races

Bartenders at Churchill Downs began making and selling the Mint Julep in 1875. The Mint Julep is by far the most ordered and now iconic drink of the Kentucky Derby. According to the Kentucky Derby’s website, almost 120,000 mint juleps are served during the two-day festivities. The historic derby recipe requires “10,000 bottles of Old Forester Mint Julep Ready-to-Serve Cocktail, 1,000 pounds of freshly harvested mint, and 60,000 pounds of ice.” Not going to make it to the races this year? We have you covered at the Bourbon Classic where almost every combination of bourbon will be served.

The Making of a Proper Mint Julep

The best Mint Julep is the one made for you and everyone seems to make it a bit differently. Everything from the cup it is served in, to the way the mint is crushed or muddled or bent can be debated.  We can talk about it all week at the Bourbon Classic but here are the long-standing staples: Traditionally, spearmint is the mint of choice used in Southern states, and Kentucky in particular. Many will tell you to muddle the mint to release its flavor into the drink. Others will say to gently bend or bruise the mint leaves. All will tell you the best mint julep is one where you can taste the bourbon. We leave you with this one recipe to get you started: The Traditional Mint Julep Recipe

  • 5 ounces of 94-proof or higher Bourbon
  • 1 tbs. Sugar
  • 2 tsp water
  • Mint sprigs
  • Crushed ice

Gently muddle leaves of the mint, after removing from the stems. Add sugar and water in a Julep cup or Collins glass. Fill with crushed ice. Add Bourbon and garnish with strongly stemmed mint.

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