Ever Wonder Why Mint Juleps Are Served In Silver Cups?

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When it comes to classic cocktails and other boozy beverages, some drinks are immediately identifiable by the glassware they're served in. A bracingly cold and strong dry martini deserves a v-shaped martini glass while Glencairn glasses are superior for sipping whiskey. And there's no doubt that a mint julep looks and tastes best when imbibed from a shiny silver cup.

Just as the reason Moscow mules are served in copper mugs largely comes down to the metal's ability to keep the drinks perfectly chilled, a silver or pewter cup is ideal for serving up a frosty mint julep. But there's more to the cup than just its chill factor or the pleasing aesthetics. The drinking vessel has a strong sense of history and is rooted in tradition and occasion.

A Southern gift steeped in ceremony, an engraved official Presidential Mint Julep Cup is sent to every new President. And while early julep cups date back hundreds of years, the cup has also come to represent special occasions, including major sporting events such as horse racing. For over half a century, the cups have been dished out as trophies to winners at Keeneland Race Course in Kentucky. But the bourbon-based mint julep served in a silver cup is perhaps most commonly associated with the Kentucky Derby.

Silver julep cups are synonymous with the Kentucky Derby

Mint juleps have been linked with the Kentucky Derby since the 1820s, with the winning jockeys being presented with a silver cup. The event began selling special souvenir cups back in the late 1930s, and the tipple has become known as the official drink of the racing event ever since.

Held on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs, there are a whopping 120,000 cups of the tasty icy beverage consumed by guests dressed up in their finest fashions every year at the annual weekend-long event. And for the 150th event in 2024, alongside the regular cups, a couple of very special Woodford Reserve cups have been produced just for the occasion, priced at a jaw-dropping $1,000 and $5,000.

The silver cups are as much a symbol of the ceremony of the race itself as they are a way of serving drinks; the governor of Kentucky always toasts the winner with a silver cup at the celebratory party. And while the cups are traditionally silver, the Kentucky Derby suggests you could try switching to copper cups if you want to create a more modern version of the famous cocktail yourself at home.

The mint julep is a classic cocktail in literature

When it comes to making classic cocktails, the ingredients are as important as the presentation — and the mint julep is no exception. While whiskey-based cocktails are often thought to warm you, a homemade mint julep is decidedly icy and refreshing.

Though it's a simple drink, consisting mainly of bourbon, simple syrup, crushed ice, and fresh mint, it's attracted a legion of literary fans over the years. F. Scott Fitzgerald paid homage to the cocktail in his novel "The Great Gatsby," with a mint julep being Daisy Buchanan's drink of choice in the sweltering heat. The cocktail even makes an appearance in "Gone With The Wind."

And several famous writers were fans, as well as the fictional characters they created. William Faulkner was partial to a mint julep, preferring to drink his favored recipe of bourbon with a teaspoon of sugar, crushed ice, and mint from a frosted silver cup. From presidents and novelists to high-profile racing events, the mint julep has an illustrious past as well as present. Just make sure it's served in a silver cup to appreciate it at its very best — and hold it by the rim, so it stays delightfully frosty. Properly presented, it's a sip of genuine history.