A Tropical Mint Julep for Derby Day

Tropical Mint Julep
To experience the pageantry of the Kentucky Derby is one of my dreams. A lover of the majestic and beautiful equine since childhood, I’ve visited a few racetracks (with not much luck, but a whole lot of fun), and it’s the whole pageantry and history of the Kentucky Derby that captivates me:  the crazy hats, the heat (unfortunately this year they’re predicting rain and a muddy track), quaffing refreshing mint juleps, the betting, anticipation, exhilaration… One of these days!

My dream intensified after a visit to Louisville, KY last fall for a Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Dinner and tour of Buffalo Trace Distillery. Buffalo Trace ages and bottles the Old Rip Van Winkle brands using  Julian Van Winkle’s grandfather’s original wheated bourbon recipe. If you don’t know what all the fuss about bourbon is, all it takes is one night!

The clubhouse at the Kentucky Derby racetrack began mixing mint juleps around 1875. The drink became so popular that it became the track’s signature libation in 1938 when the management began charging 75 cents for the drink and the small glass vessel it came in. Every year during Derby week at Churchill Downs, more than 80,000 mint juleps are served.

Kentuckians maintain that when a mint julep is made right, you can hear angels sing. Always made with fresh mint, Kentucky bourbon, and plenty of crushed or shaved ice, it is the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. Traditionally, mint juleps are served in silver or pewter cups (which frost better than glass). Thousands of mint juleps are served every year at the Derby, on the first Saturday in May, at Churchill Downs, and at weekend Derby parties around the nation. {Source: What’s Cooking America}

I’ll be watching the Derby tomorrow and maybe even placing a few bets based on the handicapping of my friends, but more likely based on the name of the horse and his colors :) I’ve heard some good things about Goldencents and he’swearing blue silks, with odds of 8/3 at the time of printing. There’s your hot tip – but my tropical twist to the classic Mint Julep is an even cooler one :) Bookmark for this summer!

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A Tropical Mint Julep for Derby Day
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Celebrate Derby Day all year with the classic Mint Julep with a tropical twist. Especially refreshing on those hot summer days!
Serves: 1 cocktail
  • .25 oz Raw sugar syrup (one part raw sugar, one part water)
  • 8 Mint leaves*
  • 2 oz Bourbon
  • Garnish: Bitters (optional), cut pineapple, mint sprig and raw cane sugar stick*
  • Glass: Julep or rocks
  1. For the raw sugar simple syrup; in a small saucepan, heat one cup purified water with one cup raw sugar until dissolved. Allow to cool before using.
  2. In a Julep cup or rocks glass, lightly muddle the mint and syrup. Add the bourbon and pack tightly with crushed ice. Stir until the cup is frosted on the outside. Top with more crushed ice to form an ice dome and garnish with a few drops of bitters, if desired.
* I used purple mint for my tropical twist and a fresh pineapple slice slipped onto a sugar cane swizzle stick.

Recipe adapted from liquor.com

The sugar cane swizzle sticks and cute little pineapple (a Zululand Queen Pineapple from South Africa) are available from Frieda’s Specialty Produce. They made these mint juleps extra special, don’t you think?

The bourbon shown is Blanton’s Single Barrel that is so special it has the date it was “dumped”, the date it was warehoused, and the date it was filtered and bottled on the label. Another label distilled at Buffalo Trace, we witnessed bottles of Blanton being hand sealed with wax and boxed the day we visited. The Don knows what I like :) Kept under lock and key at the local Liquor Warehouse, normally a bourbon of this caliber should be enjoyed neat, but the Derby is a special day. Enjoy :)

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10 Responses to “A Tropical Mint Julep for Derby Day”

  1. Laura @ Family Spice May 4 at 9:04 am #

    I have not had a mint julep yet! Gasp! You know we hit the races at Del Mar and had the same issue about betting. Kids chose the names they liked. It’s definitely the atmosphere and company that make this a fun event, because I’m not a big gambler!

    • Priscilla May 7 at 7:16 pm #

      Laura – If you’re not a bourbon drinker, this could change your mind :)

  2. Laura (Tutti Dolci) May 4 at 7:52 pm #

    I’ve never tried a mint julep but they sound so refreshing. Love the pineapple garnish!

    • Priscilla May 7 at 7:15 pm #

      Thanks, Laura – if you were sitting on your porch taking refuge from the stifling heat & humidity of summer in the South you would know why they’re the perfect elixir :)

  3. Lisa May 5 at 6:13 am #

    The Kentucky Derby is on my bucket list! I’m dying to wear a kooky hat and tell people I have the vapors as I fan myself I took horseback riding lessons as a kid and my father’s first cousin’s husband owned horses at Yonkers Raceway and would take us to see them when we visited every Thanksgiving. I could have stayed there forever! That said..I have yet to try a mint julep..but I love your tropical twist on it! I do love Bourbon in Pecan Pie, so why not a julep? :)

    • Priscilla May 7 at 7:11 pm #

      Lisa, your comments always put a smile on my face! I think we would have too much fun at the Derby if we were ever to meet up there :)

  4. Warren Bobrow May 5 at 1:47 pm #

    Lovely article. But today is Cinco de Mayo and I’m having Tequila from Arrogante, woven into a hand-shaken margarita- fresh lime, agave and reposado. mmmm

    • Priscilla May 5 at 5:57 pm #

      Cheers, Warren! This was not a weekend to go on the wagon :) What with the Kentucky Derby yesterday and Cinco de Mayo today, I’ll be joining you in a virtual tequila toast!

  5. Oakley Boren (@OakMonster) May 7 at 3:09 pm #

    I’m at work for another 45 minutes. Guess who’s picking up some mint on her way home tonight? ;-D

    • Priscilla May 7 at 7:09 pm #

      You won’t be disappointed :) If you’re not a bourbon lover already, this cocktail is a lovely introduction!

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