Why The Mint You Use In A Mint Julep Actually Matters

Gold, silver, and bronze are the classic marks of first, second, and third, but at the Kentucky Derby, they change things up a little bit. Of course, the winning horse and jockey of the derby is traditionally awarded the blanket of roses instead of a classic gold medal. However, the true winners of the day all sport silver — the sterling silver cup of a mint julep.

The mint julep is the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, and has played a role in the year's biggest horse race since the early 19th century. CNN reports that in the 1820s, the sterling silver cup was given as a prize to first place jockeys at the Churchill Downs Racetrack. Since then, the drink has become synonymous with the race along with its other traditions of fancy hats and heaping bowls of burgoo. The Kentucky Derby claims that there are nearly 120,000 mint juleps consumed by attendees over the course of the two-day event. The soothing combination of crushed ice, bourbon, sugar, and mint can soothe the wounds of even the sorest of losers and make the thrill of a well-placed bet taste all the more sweet.

No derby party this season would be complete without the proper ingredients for a mint julep on hand. Most of the elements of the drink are pretty simple, but one requires special attention compared to the others: the mint.

Is spearmint or peppermint better for your mint julep?

The mint julep is a humble enough drink that consists of bourbon, simple syrup, and fresh mint over finely crushed ice, but it is the prize of winners and losers alike every May at the Kentucky Derby (via Eater). Having the right mint on hand for a proper julep is an integral part of the drink's magic. The word mint is commonly used for any plant in the mentha genus, but knowing which mint is right for the task at hand can have drastically different effects.

It's best to avoid using peppermint in a julep. This mint most often decorates desserts and candies around Christmas time. Its menthol content can give a cooling effect when consumed. Legendary New Orleans barman Chris McMillian told Eater that "the man who would put peppermint into a mint julep would put scorpions into a baby's bed."

According to Eater, spearmint is the best mint for use in a julep. The delicate and sweet taste of spearmint is best for cocktails and garnishes (via MasterClass). The soft notes of the smoother, bright green leaves complement the other elements in the drink without stealing the show. It should be muddled gently at the bottom of the glass before adding any other ingredients. Be careful not to bruise the leaves or they'll release bitter tasting tannic acids, and spoil the drink (via Eater).