Why This Is The Official Drink Of The Kentucky Derby

When you’re at an event that’s so closely aligned with tradition that it is literally called the sport of kings, there are bound to be a few years- if not decades-old practices associated with that event. It’s no different for the Kentucky Derby, which ran its first race in 1875. Traditions include the playing of “My Old Kentucky Home” (with the entire crowd singing along) and the presence of stylish, and sometimes out-of-this-world, head toppers. And then there are the mint juleps, which have been served at the Churchill Downs races for almost 100 years (via Kentucky Derby) and became the event’s official drink in 1938 (via Cocktail Times). 

Mint juleps might be a hallowed part of the American Southern tradition, but Town & Country points out that the drink comes from much further away. “Centuries ago, there was an Arabic drink called julab, made with water and rose petals. The beverage had a delicate and refreshing scent that people thought would instantly enhance the quality of their lives,” Woodland Reserve Bourbon’s Chris Morris told Cocktail Times. It was when the drink moved out of the Middle East and into the Mediterranean that mint leaves replaced rose petals.

The first mint julep cost 75 cents a serving

The mint julep traveled to the American South sometime in the late 1700s where it was used both as a concoction to calm the stomach (via Lux Row Distillers) as well as the Southern farmers’ answer to a kick at dawn (via Cocktail Times). 

But the mint julep didn’t really become synonymous with the Kentucky Derby until event organizers began serving the drink in souvenir cups, and got thirsty spectators to pay 75 cents for a mint julep and the glam specialty cup that went with it. Fast forward to the future, and Kentucky Derby organizers say nearly 120,000 mint juleps are served over two days. If you’re a numbers person, that would be the equivalent of 10,000 bottles of ready-to-serve cocktail, 1,000 pounds of fresh mint, and 60,000 pounds of ice put together. Mint juleps today also cost a bit more — $15 dollars instead of 75 cents, and if you’re up to spending an arm and a leg, $2,500 if you opt for a gold cup with a silver straw (via CNN).

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