What do you think of when you hear the words “Kentucky Derby?”
The iconic horse race is set for Saturday, so we have to ask.
Anyway: Do you, by chance, think of horses, Churchill Downs, big hats, betting and mint juleps? We sure do.
An estimated 120,000 mint juleps are served every year at Churchill Downs over a two-day period that includes at the Kentucky Oaks race. The julep has even become the official drink of the Kentucky Derby.
There’s even a National Mint Julep Day: May 30 annually.
So, what is a mint julep, anyway? How did it get so popular? Let’s dive into those questions and more.
What's in a mint julep?
A mint julep is a mixed cocktail with four main ingredients: bourbon, simple syrup, fresh mint and crushed ice. The type of mint can vary, but spearmint is the popular choice.
There are variations on how to mix the drink, but it's traditionally served in a silver cup or highball glass.
The drink often is constructed with the glass or cup filled nearly to the top with crushed ice, which sits on top of the mint, syrup and bourbon, with more mint stacked on top of the ice.
How did it become official drink of the Derby?
Since Kentucky is a big producer of bourbon, the drink, containing plenty of ice -- remember all that ice we just mentioned? -- seems perfect to cool people off on hot May days. The mint julep has been the official drink of the Derby since 1939.
The winner of the Derby gets toasted by the governor of Kentucky with a silver julep cup.
CNN did an in-depth history of the mint julep.
Does one really cost $1,000?
In recent years, a traditional mint julep has cost $11 at Churchill Downs, but if you really have money to throw around and you want to splurge, you can get a special mint julep that costs $1,000.
Why do these mint juleps cost $1,000?
One, the ingredients are finer.
In the past, ice has been flown in from a glacier in Finland, the mint has come from Ireland and honey aged in an oak barrel for 145 days has been used, according to the Louisville Courier Journal.
Each year the recipe is different, according to foodandwine.com.
Two, the drinks are served in special sterling silver or gold cups that can be kept by the buyer.
Despite the cost, the drinks usually sell out. Those who buy them get access to a special mint julep tent for the race.
Are there variations?
Why, yes, of course.
If you want to serve mint juleps at your own house or party, there are different ways to prepare them.
An article on townandcountrymag.com lists 15 different mint julep recipes to consider.
This story was first published in 2019. It has since been updated.