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Download The Kentucky Derby Guide

Let’s Talk Derby! From classic mint julep cocktail recipes to must attend Derby events, this is your guide.

Every year, more than 120,000 mint juleps are served at Churchill Downs during Kentucky Derby weekend! The mint julep is the official cocktail of the iconic horse race. Many people ask us –  what is a mint julep? And why do we love this classic cocktail?

What is in a mint julep?

A traditional mint julep is a cocktail made with fresh mint leaves, sugar or simple syrup, crushed ice and Kentucky bourbon.

Our favorite recipe is as follows.

Toasting with a mint julep at Churchill DownsThe Perfect Mint Julep

  • 10 fresh mint leaves
  • 2 fresh mint sprigs
  • 1 ounce simple syrup (made with equal parts water and sugar)
  • 3 ounces Kentucky bourbon
  • Crushed ice

In a silver julep cup or thick glass, muddle fresh mint leaves and simple syrup. Pack the glass with crushed ice and top with bourbon. Garnish with mint sprigs.

What is the best Kentucky bourbon for a mint julep?

Which bourbon you choose is up to you! If you are unsure of what bourbon to mix with, we suggest a wheated bourbon if you prefer sweeter drinks or a rye bourbon for something a little spicy. If you’re looking for where to buy a julep, many spirits companies offer a pre-mixed bottled cocktail.

Who invented the mint julep?

The mint julep likely originated in the southern United States during the 1700s. U.S. Senator from Kentucky Henry Clay famously popularized the cocktail but the inventor is unknown. Early mentions in cocktail books and other print materials don’t specify bourbon as the spirit to mix in a mint julep. Many people used brandy, gin or other spirits. Bourbon has since become the most popular – and our favorite!

Why do they drink mint juleps at the Kentucky Derby?

Since 1938, the mint julep has been the “official drink of the Kentucky Derby” as declared by Churchill Downs. Their version of the cocktail also popularized serving it in a sterling silver cup. Today, a new collectible glass is sold each year to commemorate that year’s Kentucky Derby. When the Kentucky Derby takes place on the first Saturday in May each year, you can watch it live at Churchill Downs or on national television. Tickets to the Kentucky Derby can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. The Kentucky Derby horse race usually starts around 6:40 p.m.

Tour of Kentucky Derby Museum and Churchill DownsPLAN YOUR TRIP

Thinking of attending the Kentucky Derby next year?

Mint Julep Tours offers Derby Week adventures to bourbon distilleries and horse farms. Shop our Derby tour below or call one of our experience coordinators at 502-583-1433 to plan your trip to Louisville.


About the Author – Rachel Nix

Rachel Goldenberg - Mint Julep ExperiencesRachel Nix has been Director of Marketing at Mint Julep since 2017. Her extensive bourbon education includes becoming an Executive Bourbon Steward through the Stave & Thief Society and graduating from Woodford Reserve’s Bourbon Academy. She is a Certified Tourism Ambassador and enthusiastic advocate for her adopted hometown of Louisville. When she’s not promoting Mint Julep’s portfolio of southern experiences, she can be found walking her dog or enjoying a drink on a Germantown patio.