Saturday is the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby, a day to sip a celebratory mint julep.
In the Bluegrass State, the liquor used is bourbon, while in Maryland it is rye.
The late Andrew W. Merle Jr., whose Standard Distillers Products produced Pikesville Rye, reeled in horror at the suggestion that a Marylander would consider bourbon.
“No self-respecting Marylander would ever do such a thing,” he said in the 1970s.
In the 1920s, when the nation was in the clutches of Prohibition, H.L. Mencken stirred up something of a national controversy when he advocated for rye.
“Any guy who’d put rye in a mint julep and crush the leaves, would put scorpions in a baby’s bed,” countered humorist Irvin S. Cobb.
The julep — simple syrup, mint, three ounces or more of rye and plenty of crushed ice — seems to have been around since the late 18th century.
After stopping at Guy’s Hotel, the noted Baltimore hostelry, in 1842, Charles Dickens wrote in a letter to The Baltimore Sun: “I am truly obliged to you for the beautiful and delicious mint julep you have so kindly sent me. I have tasted it, but reserve further proceedings until the arrival of Washington Irving, whom I expect to dine with me, tete-a-tete, and who will help me to drink your health.”