On Mint Juleps and the Kentucky Derby

This past weekend, I took a road trip to a lovely little place called Lou-ah-ville to attend my very first Kentucky Derby! A subculture of Kentucky in its own right, you haven’t experienced Louisville if you haven’t seen the “Derby Life.” Honestly, the Kentucky Derby might as well be its own holiday there because it’s treated like such. And the beverage of choice: The Mint Julep.

Yes, every first weekend in May, the Kentucky Churchill Downs prepares to host over 180,000 Derby enthusiasts who come from both near and far. At multiple mint juleps per person, that’s almost 1 million Mint Juleps served in a day!

But they wouldn’t have it any other way. Everyone has their own recipe, but the official sweet little drink is made with mint syrup, Kentucky whisky, crushed ice, and crushed mint, served in a souvenir Derby glass of course.

Before I continue on with the juleps, you should know that the Kentucky Derby consists of two very different sections. One is the seated section, where, if you can afford a seat, life is a little more civilized and much more focused on the race. The other is the infield section for those who can only afford general admission and barely any view at all. I of course was in the infield (hey! it’s my first Derby what do you expect?) and entered the venue in a very uncivilized, chaotic door.

But the infield happens to be fun. Think of it as sort of a picnic with hundreds of thousands of other people. You bring your own chairs, blanket, tent or what have you and just have yourself a good time. If you get to see the track (aka get there at the crack of dawn) then hey, you’re one lucky Derby attendee. If this doesn’t sound like fun to you at all, do note that they have large TV screens atop the track so we can still see what’s going on and who wins.

I had three goals for my first Derby. One, make sure to get a program. I’m a sucker for horse race programs (not sure why) but I thought this one would be a hell of a souvenir. Second, make some bets – if there’s ever a race to win big, it’s the Derby. With a $2 million purse alone, and an in-house pool of over $25 million, it’s almost a requirement to bet. But, lastly, and most importantly, I just had to try the mint juleps!

I wasn’t sure I’d like all the sweetness of the mint syrup, but there was no way I was going to endure the 5 and a half hour drive not to have me a mint julep!

Of course it was sweet but I did enjoy it. The whisky melded out the sweetness of the syrup and the real sprigs of mint carried the drink to form one cohesive glass of tradition. My favorite part: the 134th Kentucky Derby Souvenir Glass. Dressed in my oversized hat and sun dress, drinking my first official Mint Julep, I felt like a true part of The Derby Life… even if just for a sip.

The Kentucky Derby Mint Julep
For nearly a century, the mint julep has been the traditional beverage of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby. The Early Times Mint Julep Cocktail is a ready-to-serve beverage that has been the “The Official Mint Julep of the Kentucky Derby®” for over 16 years. Over 80,000 Early Times Mint Juleps are served over the two-day period of the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby, requiring 8,000 liters of Early Times Mint Julep Ready-to-Serve Cocktail, 2,200 pounds of freshly harvested mint, and 80 tons of shaved ice.


2 C. sugar
2 C. water
sprigs of fresh mint
crushed ice
Early Times Kentucky Whisky


Make a simple syrup by boiling sugar and water together for five minutes. Cool and place in a covered container with 6-8 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 Early Times Kentucky Whisky. Stir rapidly with a spoon to frost the outside of the cup. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

Recipe from KentuckyDerby.com

But the Kentucky Derby is more than just mint juleps. It has its own foodways to help people with their infield picnics. Try out these tasty recipes!

Derby Pie
Kentucky Derby Chicken Noodle Casserole
Kentucky Derby Ham Biscuits

Also, don’t forget to enter the Chew on That contest!
Contest ends May 14.

Tell us about your favorite local food!

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  • Sarah P.

    Hi Hillary! I am so jealous! I bet you had a blast there! I am not a big fan of whiskey but I do love the mint herb in drinks like the Mohito, could you taste the whiskey? And more importantly….did you win any of the races?

    P.S. I love your hat :), it look like you fit in perfectly!

  • http://www.mangopowergirl.com Mango Power Girl

    Nice hat! Also nice to put a face to the name :) I can’t wait to make a mint julep especially with this mint julep plant I just got :-P Only if the drink grew on a tree!

  • http://bleedingespresso.com bleeding espresso

    Goodness I don’t know why I’ve never had a Mint Julep…seems it’d be my perfect drink!

    Love the hat too :)



  • http://www.atasteofkentucky.com Kentucky

    I love the specified way to say Louisville at the beginning of your post! You said it correct, without the ‘is’!! Good job!

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