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A perfect mint julep expression is here displayed by Jonathan Van Dyke Norman, who critically sniffs the aroma of mint and Bourbon as he holds a silver mug somewhat defrosted by affectionate handling.
Caption from LIFE. A perfect mint julep expression is here displayed by Jonathan Van Dyke Norman, who critically sniffs the aroma of mint and Bourbon as he holds a silver mug somewhat defrosted by affectionate handling.Alfred Eisenstaedt—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
A perfect mint julep expression is here displayed by Jonathan Van Dyke Norman, who critically sniffs the aroma of mint and Bourbon as he holds a silver mug somewhat defrosted by affectionate handling.
Tall glasses holding mint juleps, consumed by Kentucky Colonels at the annual Kentucky Colonels Julep Reception held at Louisville's Kentucky Hotel day before the Derby, were pronounced incorrect by the private party guests shown elsewhere on these pages who drank their mint juleps from silver mugs.
The Van winkle kitchen was a pleasant scene of hospitable preparation as trayful after trayful of silver-mugged mint juleps were sent to the appreciative Derby Week guests.
The No. 1 Van Winkle servant, white-gloved William Kirby, expertly balances a tray of juleps with the second-nature dexterity acquired during 22 years with the same family.
Congenial celebrants at the Van Winkle mint julep party included, from left to right, T. V. Hartnett, tobacco bigwig; Mary Van Winkle, the host's daughter; Richard Dewey.
Mint julep drinker Mrs. Eugene Walker demonstrates how a Louisville belle manages to achieve maturity gracefully and happily.
Changing into evening dress, many Van Winkle guests proceeded to Mrs. Henry J. Powell's buffet supper. Above, left to right, Mrs. Rowan Morrison, Gustave Breux, Mrs. William C. Hall and Judge Arthur Peter. The tall glasses contain not mint juleps but Bourbon and soda.
1937 Kentucky Derby
1937 Kentucky Derby
1937 Kentucky Derby
Pre-eminent among Churchill Downs officialdom at the 63rd Kentucky Derby held Saturday were the four stewards of the race. Left to right they are: Sam H. McMeekin, C. Bruce Head, S. C. Nuckols and Presiding Steward Charles F. Price.
1937 Kentucky Derby
The black quartet shown consists of Churchill Downs Bar waiters. The bar overlooks the track and no Bourbon-and-soda orders whatever are filled when the Derby horses are coming down the stretch.
1937 Kentucky Derby
Churchill Downs jockeys in their quarters, include several who rode in the Kentucky Derby. At lower left is Hubert Leblanc who rode Miss Mary Hirsh's No Sir. Next to him is Hilton Dabson, who rode William Shea's and Miss E. G. Rand's Merry Maker. Fourth from left, with the number 10 on his sleeve is Basil James, who rode J. W. Parrish's Dellor.
War Admiral Wins the 1937 Kentucky Derby
Caption from LIFE. A perfect mint julep expression is here displayed by Jonathan Van Dyke Norman, who critically sniffs
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Alfred Eisenstaedt—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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How To Throw a 1930s-Inspired Mint Julep Party for the Kentucky Derby

May 01, 2015

The race known as “the most exciting two minutes in sports” has long been an occasion for vices of all kinds, most notably gambling and drinking. And those planning a bash to ring in this weekend’s Kentucky Derby would do well to take a hint from classy affairs of derbies past.

In May 1937, LIFE dedicated its “LIFE Goes to a Party” feature to a mint julep fête held at the Louisville residence of Julian P. Van Winkle and his wife. Van Winkle, president of the Stitzel-Weller Distillery, served up the traditional derby drink, made exclusively with bourbon from his own label. Photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt captured guests who were partaking in the mint julep experience in the only acceptable way: by imbibing vast quantities.

Proper mint julep etiquette includes the use of frosty silver mugs in place of tall glasses, and appreciating the aroma of fresh herbs before sipping the drink itself. But the most important preparation for a Van Winkle-inspired party of your own? The recipe, of course:

The Van Winkle mint julep formula is to use only 17-year-old stock—either “Old Fitzgerald” or “Old Mammoth Cave”—put sugar and bruised mint at the bottom of the silver cup, pack in finely-cracked ice to induce proper frosting, stick mint sprigs in after two ounces of Bourbon have been poured.

War Admiral Wins the 1937 Kentucky DerbyWar Admiral wins the Kentucky Derby two lengths ahead of his challenger, Pompoon, at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. on May 9, 1937.  AP Photo 

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.

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