A Window into America's Past

Flags and Banners mark springtime in the Louisville of the '30sDerby Time!

From the middle of April until the beginning of May, the city of Louisville experiences a phenomenon known as Derby Fever.  This picture shows downtown Fourth Street decked out in the late 1930s (or early 40s) for the festivities. (click here for enlargement)

Before there was an Official Kentucky Derby Festival with its hundreds of scheduled events, the entire central city broke out into a spontaneous festival with banners and bunting and throngs of people.  Fourth Street, the former commercial center of Louisville was blocked off Derby Eve  for the merrymakers, as they dined and partied the night away. 

The increasing popularity of the Kentucky Derby also gave rise to that tradition known as the Derby Party, a Derby Eve revelry of music and dancing, good food, and of course, the mint julep.  Most of you may be familiar with the classic recipe of this traditional Kentucky sipper, but you may have never seen anything like the recipe that follows it.  Then, for those truest of Kentucky blue-bloods,with the highest regard for tradition, we include Henry Clay's very own recipe:



Mint Julep
(classic variations)

Simple Syrup
Combine one to two parts sugar to one part water (this can be made cold or by boiling)

Fresh Mint
Fresh mint is added to the syrup: either it may be steeped, as tea, for a few minutes in the hot syrup, then removed; added to cold syrup for 12-16 hours to impart its minty flavor; or the leaves well-crushed by mortar and pestle and added to the drink as it is made.

Fine Kentucky Bourbon
No cutting corners here, or with the freshness of the mint

Shaved Ice
Confectioners' Sugar
More Sprigs of Fresh Mint
An Appropriate Julep Cup
silver is traditional: it frosts and adds
to the enjoyment of the drink
A short straw

A sprig of mint, and the shaved ice is added to a julep cup, then a shot of  only the best Kentucky bourbon whiskey.  To this, add the syrup and mix well.  A slight dusting of sugar may be added to the top.  A short straw is used so the aroma of the mint can be appreciated. 



This next recipe comes from the Kentucky Receipt Book of 1900.  It  was taken out of the copy used by Louisville's prominent Seelbach  family early this century:

(We don't know anyone who has ever tried this second recipe.  Please email us if you do, and tell us how it tastes)


Mint Julep
Kentucky Receipt Book

One quart of water, 2 cups sugar, 1 pint of claret wine, 1 cup of strawberry juice, 1 cup orange juice,  juice of 8 lemons, 12 sprigs of fresh mint.   Make a syrup of boiling water and sugar 20 minutes.  Break mint in pieces and add to boiling water.  Cover and let it stand 5 minutes, strain and add to syrup.   Add fruit juice.  Pour in punch bowl and add claret and cracked ice.   Dilute with water.  Add fresh mint and whole strawberries.


Then there's this classic:


Mint Julep
Henry Clay's recipe

"The mint leaves, fresh and tender, should be pressed against a coin-silver goblet with the back of a silver spoon.  Only bruise the leaves gently and then remove them from the goblet.  Half fill with cracked ice.  Mellow bourbon, aged in oaken barrels, is poured from the jigger and allowed to slide slowly through the cracked ice.

"In another receptacle, granulated sugar is slowly mixed into chilled limestone water to make a slivery mixture as smooth as some rare Egyptian oil, then poured on top of the ice.  While beads of moisture gather on the burnished exterior of the silver goblet, garnish the brim of the goblet with the choicest sprigs of mint."

Henry Clay
"the Great Compromiser"
From his diary


On the way to Churchill Downs by horse and carriageOld Louisville's Culbertson's
with their famous four-horse rig
on Derby Day 1897.
Click here for the Culbertson Mansion
Home Page which contains some more
Old Louisville and Kentucky Derby History


Also see:
Vintage Postcard Views of Churchill Downs and the Derby

Derby Day 2003
A Typical Derby Day in Old Louisville

Events (includes some Derby links)


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Old Louisville National Historic District

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