A true Kentucky Mint Julep, from The Bluegrass Tavern in Lexington, KY
In social settings, regardless of what city I’m in, one question comes up repeatedly as soon as I reveal that I hail from the Bluegrass State.
“Do you drink mint juleps?”
It could be the third Thursday in November, and for some reason all anyone wants to talk about from that moment forward is the Kentucky Derby and its ubiquitous cocktail. Inevitably someone in the crowd either makes “the best mint julep” or knows someone else that does. Sidebar conversations tend to break out at that point over whether the julep should be “strong” or “sweet”, whether the mint is incorperated as an essential element or used more as garnish. It’s no wonder there is confusion among outsiders over how to make a proper mint julep. Kentuckians can’t agree on the correct preparation either. Books have been written on the subject. It would not surprise me to discover a thesis at the University of Kentucky has been written on “The Psychological and Social Aspects of the Proper Preparation of the Mint Julep Cocktail”, such is the level of diverse opinion on the subject.
Churchill Down's Twin Spires logo in the floor of the Gate 17 atrium
The following story is all true except perhaps the reporter’s background, which – if not confirmable – is at least highly suspected.
In Lexington, the Derby coverage starts early in the day on Friday with the running of the Kentucky Oaks, and pretty much continues until after the world’s most famous horse race is over Saturday evening. The rest of the country mercifully only has about 3 hours of it to endure. But here, 70 miles to the east of Churchill Downs and smack dab in the middle of the world’s thoroughbred breeding grounds, the race is a multi-day extravaganza that takes on Olympic proportions.
It has been said the Kentucky Derby is the most difficult horse race to handicap. It is a day where it is not always a good thing to be the favorite. It’s a good day for a sleeper.