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History of the classic Mint Julep

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1803, Virginia, USA

The name of the cocktail, Julep, is a variation on the Persian word "gulab", which means "rose water". In the Middle East, this was more than just a name for water aged or distilled with rose petals; a wide variety of herbal and floral infusions that made up an entire category of "medicinal waters".

Having arrived from the East in the West, the trend for medicinal waters reached Ireland, where the locals began using them not for medical ends, but in order to enhance the taste of alcoholic beverages. Irish settlers brought this fashion with them to America, where the tradition of mixing alcohol with infusions and syrups had already taken hold in the Southern states by the 18th century. Any base could be used: brandy, bourbon, gin... But the Mint Julep, invented in 1803 in Virginia and having taken all the fame ever since, was made strictly with bourbon.

From 1920 through 1933, during Prohibition, the Mojito ensured that Americans maintained their love for minty flavors. When thirsty Yanks satisfied their yearning for a sip in Cuba, away from the reach of the dry law, the rum and mint flavors of the Mojito became a sort of replacement for their usual Southern tipple.

Five years or so after Prohibition’s repeal, the MINT JULEP returned to the spotlight in 1938 and became the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, where all the South’s high society typically gathered. In the two days of competition, about 120,000 juleps are usually consumed!

The majority of juleps are served in silver cups, but there’s also a VIP-julep, served in a gold cup at the cost of $1,000 per serving. The mint is from Morocco; the ice – from the Arctic; the sugar – from exotic Pacific islands; and the bourbon is only top-shelf. The number of golden cups is limited to 50, and the profits from the drink will be donated to a charity supporting veteran horses after their retirement from competition.


See the recipe


Historian: Vladimir Zhuravlev

Illustration: Moe

Journalists: Sara Davis, Samantha Johnson

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