A race through history: How the Mint Julep became the Derby's dr - WDRB 41 Louisville News

A race through history: How the Mint Julep became the Derby's drink

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Mint Julep is something we think about at this time of the year, but the drink has a storied history that started in the 19th century, and overseas.

"(It) starts in the Middle East and really migrates west, and it changes and evolves in Europe," said Chris Morris, Master Distiller at Woodford Reserve.

"We start to hear early about it in the early 1800s," explained Churchill Downs historian, Chris Goodlett.

It washed up on the shores of Virginia and Maryland.  At the time, that area only had brandy and rum.

"The concept of a Mint Julep not having bourbon in it is hard to imagine today," said Morris.

That era didn't last long. 

The julep washed over the Appalachian Mountains and ended up in the Bluegrass.

"Kentuckians will tell you we perfected the Mint Juelp -- by adding bourbon do it," Goodlett said.

It worked, and stayed in Kentucky.

"That is historic because the evolution of the Mint Julep stops. It doesn't keep going west. It has hit its peak of perfection," Morris said.

Perfection fit for a big event. At the gate in those days, a horse race called the Kentucky Derby. The Mint Julep became so popular that in 1939, it became the Derby's official drink.

Fast forward through decade after decade to today.

"We sell about 120,000 on Oaks and Derby Day," Goodlett told WDRB.

Even the glasses in which the Juleps are served are hard to keep in stock because they're collectibles. 

The Mint Julep isn't a Derby-time only drink any more. Its availability and its taste are evolving.

"Bartenders are remaking the Mint Julep using new ingredients," said Morris.

That puts it in the ranks of the Manhattan and Old Fashion. 

Cocktail royalty that became what it is thanks to the Run for the Roses.

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