The Mint Julep- An American Classic


September 4, 2020 Update:

Because 2020 is turning out to be one super long twilight zone episode this Saturday will be the 146th running of the Kentucky Derby. With no spectators.

Since the Mint Julep is the official drink of the Kentucky Derby the bitchy modernist is re-posting this article originally posted on April 30th. (Prior to the first Saturday in May- the typical date for the running of the Derby.) Jesus somebody pour me a drink.


Original Post

The Mint Julep is a quintessential American cocktail. Associated with the rolling green farms and warm weather of the south, it is a harbinger of Spring. The first Saturday in May is typically Derby Day, (barring a global pandemic), and the Mint Julep is its official drink. It’s the perfect bridge cocktail because of its bourbon base -it tastes just as delicious when the weather may lean more toward winter than spring but it’s minty flavor and sweetness make it incredibly refreshing in hot weather. But be careful, this potent cocktail can go down fast in warmer weather and you may find yourself stumbling about in your Derby finest.


While it may be the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, it is uncertain whether the Mint Julep actually originated in Kentucky. Some claim Virginia as its birthplace. Either way with its heavy reliance on bourbon, it’s safe to assume that the mint Julep originated in the southern US. According to mixologist Ben Reed, the term julep derives from the Arabic word julab, meaning rose water. Some believe that this rustic combination of mint sugar, crushed ice and bourbon was served to farm hands toiling in the fields as a pick me up. Ted Haigh, aka Dr. Cocktail traced the evolution of the julep in his book Vintage spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. ( a must for any cocktail lover) The earliest reference he has found to the julep was in a John Milton poem from the mid-1600’s. Interestingly the poem also references early spring, albeit the month of April. He finds another reference to the julep in 1835 in The London Medical & Surgical Journal, but no mention of mint (or bourbon for that matter). These early versions featured gin, rum, brandy and cognac. He offers a recipe for a cocktail called the Georgia Mint Julep based on this early version, using cognac and peach brandy, yet declares that the recipe is from Virginia. Clear as Mud? Evidently the history of the Mint Julep is a muddled one. Legend has it that poor southerners unable to afford brandy or cognac substituted bourbon instead, and an American classic was born.

Here at the Modernist’s Guide, we like to keep it simple and save the complexity for architectural gossip- so our recipe is for the classic version featuring bourbon, mint, simple syrup and crushed ice.

While a silver tumbler isn’t required, crushed or cracked ice is. Remeber that ice crusher we told you about?

Peppermint is the mint of choice (-not spearmint which has a stronger minty, almost medicinal flavor.) In the bottom of a silver or pewter tumbler, muddle a few fresh mint leaves with agave nectar, simple syrup, or sugar and a little water.


Fill the glass with crushed ice and fill with bourbon. Stir the drink until the exterior is coated with ice, and garnish with a mint sprig. We recommend 4 Roses bourbon for the Mint Julep.



Before you sip, make sure to fondle your mint sprig releasing the mint aroma and enhancing the flavors of the cocktail. Sip and enjoy the minty aroma of this ice cold and refreshing beverage and then get ready for another American classic- the scandalous life and deaths of Frank Lloyd Wright. In the next post from the bitchy modernist.

Equipment Ice crusher Muddler

Silver tumbler

Sources