It’s time, once again, for me to pull out my silver julep cups and get ready for one of my favorite events - the Iroquois Steeplechase. Honestly, I think Steeplechase is my favorite day of the year – the setting is awesome, the horses beautiful, the people spectacular and the cause so worthy.
I am a mint julep enthusiast, to say the least. Love them! My wife started me a collection of julep cups years ago, and friends have added to the collection that I so treasure. Traditionally, mint juleps were often served in silver or pewter cups and held only by the bottom and top edges of the cup allowing frost to form on the outside of the cup. In early days, Virginians would sip on mint juleps, served in silver goblets, over breakfast. It has been said that the drink, traditionally made with sugar syrup and mint, was once cherished for its medicinal properties and was used by farmers for a jolt akin to coffee. During this time, they were made with brandy or rum. Some say bourbon, which was readily available, was introduced to the julep by poor Southerners who could not afford fine liquor. To this day, many enthusiasts insist that a proper julep should be made only with bourbon whiskey. Bourbon whiskey is named after Bourbon County in Kentucky, which was established in 1786. Different from other whiskeys, bourbon must contain at least 51 percent corn, made with soft water and aged in highly chard oak barrels to give it its dark color.
The bourbon based Mint Julep evolved probably because of the passionate people who loved it, one of the most notable being Henry Clay who made the mint julep famous at the world renowned Willard Hotel’s Round Robin Bar in Washington D.C. - securing it as one of the most iconic drinks in the bourbon world.
Chris Morris, from Woodford Reserve Bourbon, says, “Centuries ago, there was an Arabic drink called julab, made with water and rose petals. The beverage had a delicate and refreshing scent that people thought would instantly enhance the quality of their lives.” When the julab was introduced to the Mediterranean region, the native population replaced the rose petals with mint – thus, resulting in the Mint Julep.
Did you know that the Mint Julep has been the official drink of the Kentucky Derby since 1938? Nearly 120,000 juleps will be sold at Churchill Downs over the two-day weekend, in Kentucky Derby collectible glasses.
In 1937, Lt. Gen. S.B. Buckner Jr. wrote a letter to Gen. William D. Connor, who had asked Gen. Buckner, a Kentuckian, for instruction on how to prepare a Mint Julep. Here is a portion of that letter: