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12:29 pm
Thu May 1, 2014

Kentucky Derby's Signature Drink Uses Locally Grown Mint

Originally published on Mon May 12, 2014 1:19 pm

The race isn’t until Saturday, but Kentucky Derby parties get underway today at Churchill Downs, and that means plenty of the event’s signature drink: the mint julep.

More than 120,000 mint juleps will be devoured, requiring lots of water, sugar, 10,000 bottles of bourbon, and 1,000 pounds of mint — all grown on a small family farm in southern Jefferson County.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Erin Keane of WFPL reports from Louisville.

Reporter

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Transcript

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

The Kentucky Derby isn't until Saturday, but race parties get underway today at Churchill Downs, and the track will be serving lots of the event's signature drink: the mint julep. That means huge amounts of water and sugar, 10,000 bottles of bourbon, and 1,000 pounds of mint, all grown on a small family farm in southern Jefferson County in Kentucky.

From HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, WFPL's Erin Keane reports from Louisville.

BILL DOHN: You can see here, we've got some burn on some leaves here, and there's certain areas in some of the other spots where we can't really cut it.

ERIN KEANE, BYLINE: After a winter full of ice storms and polar vortex temperatures, Bill Dohn started his spring mint harvest with some reservations.

DOHN: This has been a really tough winter. We lost some of it during the winter, which very seldom ever happens that you just lose it because of the cold.

KEANE: Dohn has grown mint on his family farm, Dohn and Dohn Gardens, since 1975. And he's supplied two tons of mint to Churchill Downs every year since 1980.

DOHN: Probably about four or five weeks ago, there was nothing green. And so we were a little worried even then. But in about five or six weeks, you can usually have the eight to ten inches is what you want.

KEANE: If you order one of the traditional cocktails at the track this year, you might notice something a little different thanks to the hard winter.

DOHN: It's not going to have the real long stems to it that we normally have.

KEANE: Out here on the mint farm, a petite 10 acres surrounded by suburban ranch houses, a half dozen local high school students are on their hands and knees harvesting he herbs by hand.

NATHAN NELSON: It's a lot of fun. It's easy. It's a race between everybody to see who's the fastest.

KEANE: That's 19-year-old Nathan Nelson. This is his seventh harvest and he's a veteran the crew. For the record, he's the fastest. It goes like this: Grab a handful of mint, make a clean cut with the knife, rubber band it together, repeat, watch your fingers. The mint bunches are grouped into larger bundles wrapped in damp newspaper and tied together with twine. They're stacked vertically in boxes ready to head to the track.

Without Dohn's mint, a julep at the track wouldn't be the same, not that Bill Dohn would know. He thinks he last attended the derby in 1974. Dohn leaves town instead.

DOHN: Because it's been usually chaotic for the two weeks before derby, and everything is pretty rough, and by derby day if they don't have the--it's like pumpkins at Halloween. You know, they're no good the next day, so, you know, it's just nice to get away from here for a little bit.

KEANE: For HERE AND NOW, I'm Erin Keane in Louisville.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

If you've got a great mint julep recipe, send it to us at hereandnow.org. Maybe we'll have our resident chef Kathy Gunst make some for us, Sacha. HERE AND NOW is a production of NPR and WBUR Boston in association with the BBC World Service. I'm Jeremy Hobson.

PFEIFFER: And I'm Sacha Pfeiffer. This is HERE AND NOW.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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