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One Man's Mint Julep Is Another's Poison

The Kentucky Derby has been called "the most exciting two minutes in sports," but it is much more than that.


LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The mint julep is a lot like Ethel Merman's singing.

You either love it or you hate it.

It is estimated that Churchill Downs will sell at least 80,000 mint juleps at the Kentucky Derby on Saturday--that's more than one for every two spectators--but many people are simply being traditional or haven't tried a julep before. In other words, they don't know any better.

Ideally, the julep is a concoction of Kentucky bourbon, crushed ice, sugar and fresh green sprigs of mint, served in a frosted silver cup. But at the Derby, most people will sample juleps in regular glasses, or even plastic cups.

"A julep," writer Terry Boyd said, "looks like it should embody all the refined and delicate Southern qualities, the high spirits of a cool summer twilight tempered by the sweet melancholy of a Southern drawl.

"It doesn't.

"At its best, [the julep] is a kick in the pants, dominated by [the bourbon]. At its worst, it tastes like a shotgun marriage to mouthwash and moonshine."

Furman Bisher, sports editor of the Atlanta Journal, has covered 50 runnings of the Derby. He likes the race but hates the julep.

"The Derby is a wonderful mix of the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful," Bisher said. "Just like the horses, the julep shouldn't be touched. Why anyone would want to drink a julep is beyond me. Personally, I was never much for weeds in my booze."

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