Why Do People Drink Mint Juleps at the Kentucky Derby?

Whether you planned to enjoyed the race from Churchill Downs or donned an elaborate hat in the comfort of your own home, if you watched the Kentucky Derby yesterday, you may have found yourself sipping on a refreshing mint julep. The drink — a cocktail traditionally composed of bourbon, sugar, water, and mint — has been a Kentucky favorite since long before Churchill Downs came into play. In fact, in 1816, silver julep cups were given as prizes at Kentucky county fairs, and before that, the “julep” was considered medicinal and was prescribed for stomach problems and sore throats. Legend has it that founder Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr. planted mint for cocktails when he founded the track in 1875, though the drink wasn’t declared the “official” Derby cocktail until 1938. What most revelers actually get is the Old Forester Ready-to-Serve Cocktail mix, not a handcrafted mint julep — unless you’re willing to pony up $1,000. If you’re looking to drop even more cash, there’s also a $2,500 version of the drink that comes in a gold up with a silver sipping straw. It is estimated that 120,000 mint juleps are served at the Kentucky Derby each year.