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Kentucky Derby - The History of the Mint Julep & Our Ginger Twist on This Classic

Like all iconic drinks, the Mint Julep has a long and storied history. In the 1700s, British explorers made a habit of mixing the fermented spirits of any indigenous sweet crop with botanicals. They probably went about this for two reasons 1) alcohol as rum or port wine had long been the currency of the open oceans and 2) A spoonful of these test concoctions helped the mostly bitter and nasty medicines of the day go down. The results of these experiments has ecoched down the years with famous outcomes like the juniper berry-infused gin and the rum and ginger-based Dark n' Stormy. From those same experiments came the Mint Julep.

The English were not only good explorers, they documented their discoveries well. Whoever writes down history, owns it and so whatever the actual genesis of this drink, the written record is English. The word "julep" is possibly a Spanish/Arabic expansion of “julepe” or rosewater. It also appears that the word is associated with a sweet drink and as a vehicle for medicine. The rosewater connection is not totally clear, but sweet alcoholic mixtures as a medicinal carrier fits and by the 1700s there are references to mint julep as an emetic (see our recent blog on Motion Sickness) and references to the citizens of Virginia sipping on this “spirituous liquor.”

By the 1800s, the British seafaring captain Frederick Marryat’s writs of his favorite recipe for a Mint Julep with mint, sugar and peach brandy over ice with the rim of the glass rubbed with pineapple (this actually sounds delicious). It would seem that Mint Juleps were more a class of drinks based on sugar and mint with a spirit from brandy to gin. But eventually the good folk of Virginia and Kentucky helped make Bourbon the dram of choice and the Mint Julep became an iconic American drink.

By 1938 Kentucky had established deep strength in horses and bourbon. In a great piece of marketing, the Brown-Forman Corporation, a strong spirit distributor, got together with the Churchill Downs horse track and the Mint Julep became the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. The story of how silver or pewter cups came to be used also has many versions.

Today most Mint Juleps are served in a highball glass or tumbler. The rest they say is a combination of big smiles, bigger hats, happy time, late nights and shaky next mornings. We think there's still room for this iconic drink to evolve. Our Ginger Syrup is the perfect next step. Slow-steeped organic ginger, organic molasses, organic raw cane sugar and lemons with bourbon and fresh mint have layers of flavor. Smoky, sweet, warm, fresh and delicious. It's available in party-sized 45 oz, 11.3 oz hip flasks and the perfect picnic size for 2-4 drinks.

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Ross Harding
Ross Harding

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