mint julep vintage

Every spring I get the itch to have a stiff bourbon drink, wear a large hat, and class things up a little. This mint julep is just the ticket. It hales from a time of southern hospitality, large front porches, and men who wore suits with bow ties to the race track. 

A little history: 

The Kentucky Derby may have made this drink famous, but the mint julep was around before the Derby started, as early as 1875. The drink dates back to 1803 when it first appeared in print and was described as “dram of spiritous liquor that has mint in it, taken by Virginians
in the morning.”

The drink could have hailed from even further back in history and much farther away then Kentucky. Chris Morris from Woodford Reserve Bourbon, centuries ago there was an Arabic drink called “julab” that was made with water and rose petals. The beverage was described as being delicate and refreshing, with a scent that
people thought would instantly enhance the quality of their

When the julab traveled to the Mediterranean region, the rose petals were replaced with a more native plant–mint.

As the drink grew in popularity in agricultural areas of the US, it was taken as a morning drink for farmers, almost like a morning cup of coffee. One sip, and they were ready to plow those fields.

The biggest change the mint julep has seen in it’s life time was the addition of American whiskey to the recipe. From there, the drink transformed into a mixture of sugar, water, mint leaves, and whiskey.

detail mint julep

The mint julep is traditionally served in small silver or pewter cups, help from the bottom. This is said to allow frost to form on the outside of the cup and keeps the transferring of heat from your hand to the drink at a minimum. It is said that this became the signature drink of the Derby then the famous race track, Churchill Down’s, began serving them in 1938 in small souvenir cups for 75 cents a drink.

While this drink has a few minor variances from the traditional mint julep, it’s just as delicious and refreshing. The glass pictured is a vintage cocktail glass, while pretty, is not traditional. When serving mint juleps in your home, serve in whatever glass you please, just serve them quick and sip them slowly.  

vintage mint julep

Originally published in my Summer Drinks app, available in iTunes.

Mint Julep
Recipe Type: Drink
Author: Sugar Pickles
Prep time:
Total time:
Serves: 1 drink
  • 2 ounces good quality bourbon or whiskey
  • 1 ounce simple syrup
  • 2-3 springs of mint, plus a few whole leaves for garnish
  • crushed ice to fill the glass
  • muddler
  1. In a tall sturdy glass, place 1 cup crushed ice, mint, and simple syrup. Crush with the muddler, until the mint is mixed with the ice and releases its fragrance, about 30 seconds. Transfer the ice mixture to your glass of choice and pour the bourbon over the ice slowly. Fill with additional crushed ice if needed.
  2. Swirl the glass gently, and sip.