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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