Who Invented the Mint Julep?

And why do we drink it while watching horse racing? A brief history

The history of the mint julep.

When did refreshing mint juleps become synonymous with the Kentucky Derby — and more importantly, who was brilliant enough to realize that bourbon and mint go together like peanut butter and jelly? The early mixologists deserve a tip of the Kentucky Derby hat for the creation of the iconic summer cocktail. 

According to the CocktailTimes, the recipe for the mint juleps first appeared in 1803; but its roots may be traced even further back. An Arabic drink, called the julab, was originally a mix of rose petals and water; eventually, the rose petals were replaced with a more indigenous plant, mint. The drink is as Southern as one can get, but it wasn't until Kentucky's Henry Clay put it on the map at Washington, D.C.'s Willard Hotel that the drink became distinctly American. 


And with that, it became the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby. "We know from historic resources that juleps and bourbon and horse racing have been intertwined since the very beginnings of Kentucky," said Chris Morris, a master distiller at Brown-Forman Corp. (which supplies the whiskey used in most mint juleps sold at Churchill Downs), to ESPN. "It's only appropriate that they are still in play at the Kentucky Derby." When the mint julep became the official drink of the Kentucky Derby in 1938, it also came in the now sought-after sterling silver Julep Cup. Need more ideas of how to freshen up your julep — or to refresh you rmemory on the classic? Click ahead for seven takes on the mint julep.