As the horses prepare to race in this year’s Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 7, fans of Metro Phoenix can hit the bar.
On Derby day, there is only one appropriate drink to order. Much like chunky, colorful hats, mint juleps are ubiquitous in racing.
You might be wondering where the bourbon mint drink was created and how it became associated with the Kentucky Derby.
What follows is a brief history of the famous drink and, more importantly, a guide to where you can order one in its iconic silver frosted cup of the valley.
What is a Mint Julep?
Mint juleps are made with crushed ice, bourbon, sugar and fresh mint leaves. But a julep doesn’t need to be minty. The julep is simply a category of refreshing cocktails that are made with crushed ice.
Mint juleps first became popular on the East Coast in the 1800s. Some say it began as a medicinal drink, used to calm the stomach, and was said to have been drunk by horse racers or people working in horse farms in the morning, to ease the aches and pains of the night before.
It was also usually a drink reserved for the upper classes, as in those days ice cream was harder to come by.
How did the mint julep become the official drink of the Kentucky Derby?
The connection to the Kentucky Derby can be seen in the iconic silver cups, which mimic those given to first-place jockeys. And it doesn’t hurt that the cocktail uses bourbon, Kentucky’s most famous spirit.
In 1939, mint julep became the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. Organizers began selling souvenir cups, and over the years the drink has become synonymous with the event.
Now, according to official Kentucky Derby figures, 120,000 mint juleps are served over the two days of the Oaks and Derby weekend. That many cocktails require 1,000 pounds of fresh mint and 60,000 pounds of ice.
Where to find a mint julep for Derby Day in the Phoenix Metro
Not everyone can get to Churchill Downs for the groceries, but around the valley there are plenty of bars and restaurants serving the classic drink all year round. Some even host Derby watch parties and do specialty cocktail variations.
So grab your biggest hat and head to one of these Phoenix Metro watering holes.
Bourbon Steak Lawn Party
Each year, the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess throws a party to celebrate the Kentucky Derby in style. The Kentucky Derby Lawn Party at Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak takes place Saturday, May 7 from 1-4 p.m. and includes indoor and outdoor activities, a DJ, lawn games, raffles and, of course, juleps at Mint. Tickets ($169 per person) include cocktails and dishes such as shrimp and grits, Kentucky hot brown and Derby pie.
Details: 7575 E. Princess Drive, Scottsdale. 480-585-2694, scottsdaleprincess.com.
Chauncey Social Party
At the Chauncey Social restaurant in North Scottsdale, the party starts at 11 a.m. on Derby day. The restaurant’s celebration will include a top hat contest, prizes and drink specials. Two versions of the mint julep will be on the menu, including the classic Maker’s Mark-based and a fruity strawberry-based variant.
Details: 17767 N. Scottsdale Road, Suite 100, Scottsdale. 480-565-6488, chaunceysocial.com.
Harold’s Cave Creek Corral Party
Mint juleps and Derby mules are on the menu for the Harold’s Cave Creek Corral Kentucky Derby party. This location in the far northeast of the valley will trade its western vibes for a taste of the south on May 7, with a party featuring the best hat and smartest outfit contests, plus a fundraiser. funds for Triple R Horse Rescue. Table reservations can be made by phone.
Details: 6895 E. Cave Creek Road, Cave Creek. 480-488-1906, haroldscorral.com.
Hidden House, a Chandler gem set in a house built in 1939, serves a classic take on the cocktail year-round. According to the menu, “We make ours the same way they do, to be enjoyed at the derby, with Old Forester. $11.”
Details: 159 West Commonwealth Avenue, Chandler. 480-275-5525, hiddenhouseaz.com.
At the Macintosh, a classic American restaurant located in the Town & Country shopping center off Camelback Road, customers can experience a twist on the traditional julep. The Bourbon Smash, which is a type of julep with looser rules, includes Buffalo Trace bourbon, muddled mint, lime, and blackberries ($14).
Details: 2119 E Camelback Road, Phoenix. 602-368-8766, www.themacintoshaz.com.
Gastro Pub RnR
Located in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale, RnR Gastropub is gearing up for its Kentucky Derby night starting at 9 a.m. on May 7. The party will include a DJ, brunch, prizes, a top hat contest and of course, mint juleps. The pub plans to revisit the classic and serve juleps made with honey instead of sugar.
Details: 3737 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale. 480-945-3353 rnrscottsdale.com.
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