The Kentucky Derby is a race steeped in tradition. From the twin spires of Churchill Downs, the derby hats and the roses placed on the winning horse, the “Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports” is as much a cultural experience and a sporting one.
Nothing, however, may be more symbolic of the Kentucky Derby than the mint julep. Since being introduced at the Derby in the late 1930s, the mint julep has become a race-day tradition. The marriage of the premiere sporting event of Kentucky and the drink that made the state famous, or vice versa, is seemingly a match made in heaven. But it was not until 1987 that Louisville, Ky.-based spirit company Brown-Forman used a bit of business savvy and capitalized on a long-standing relationship with Churchill Downs to introduce the Early Times mint julep as the “Official Drink of the Kentucky Derby.”
For Early Times, that relationship was the conclusion of a journey that began more than a century before the company signed on to be an official sponsor of the first leg horse racing’s Triple Crown.
“Early Times is one of the oldest spirit brands in America,” Chris Morris, master distiller for Brown-Forman,which owns Early Times along with brands including Jack Daniels, Woodford Reserve, Southern Comfort and Korbel Champagne, said. “It dates back to 1860 and it takes the name from the brand originator’s philosophy that he was going to make whiskey the way it was made in the early times, back in the days of old mash and open fires.”
Jack Beam, founder of Early Times and uncle of Jim Beam, grew his distillery through the rest of that century and into the beginning of the next century until Prohibition closed the distillery’s doors.
“The distillery was closed, but the warehouses were full of barrels of bourbon and whiskey with no legal way to be sold, except through the Volstead Act’s medicinal use permit,” Morris said. “Our parent company, Brown-Forman, had one of the six permits in the country. Early Times was acquired by Brown-Forman during Prohibition in 1923 for its whiskey ties.”
Strange Random Mint Julep Quote:
“They say that you may always know the grave of a Virginian as, from the quantity of julep he has drunk, mint invariably springs up where he has been buried.” – Frederick Marryat, 1839
- Kentucky Derby to serve 120,000 mint juleps (mnn.com)
- It’s Kentucky Derby Day! What Makes a Mint Julep Worth $1000? (foxnewsinsider.com)
- Kentucky Derby 2012: Want To Make The Best Mint Julep? (VIDEO) (denver.sbnation.com)
- The Kentucky Derby, the original mint julep and the why (edibletimes.com)
- Derby week: ‘One Mint Julep’ (toddpack.com)
- SFist Drinks: The Mint Julep at District in Oakland (sfist.com)
- Today’s photos: the hats of Kentucky Derby 2012 (examiner.com)
- Maker’s Mark’s Perfect Mint Julep For Derby Day (stacyknows.com)
- Kentucky Derby Odds: Gemologist, Hansen Among The Sleeper Candidates (losangeles.sbnation.com)
- Mint Julep Recipe (arrowheadaddict.com)