It’s off the races with this classic Mint Julep, a Southern favorite that is a sure bet no matter where you live.
On the first Saturday in May, all eyes are on the grand Churchhill Downs for the Kentucky Derby. As a Bluegrass State native, I’m all about horse racing—for this one day. I haven’t actually been to the race in years, but my husband and I love to throw a rocking Derby party. I bring out my fascinator (one of those big bow clips for my hair) and a flowery dress while my husband steps on a fashion limb with pastel plaid. We make a spread of tasty appetizers, featuring some of our favorites like Caprese skewers and tomato and feta tart. If I’m being honest, though, on Derby Day, the food is the backdrop to the star of the day: the Mint Julep.
Made with just four ingredients — mint leaf, bourbon, sugar, and water — the Mint Julep is THE Derby drink. If you need more proof (as if the bourbon didn’t have enough proof!), the good folks at the Kentucky Derby office report selling nearly 120,000 mint juleps over the Kentucky Derby weekend. That’s 10,000 bottles of mint julep mix, 1,000 pounds of mint, and 60,000 pounds of ice!
You might find some familiar flavors here: while a Kentucky Mule also features bourbon and the Mojito has the mint, the Mint Julep tastes like a winner. Just take it from me: the Derby might be the best two minutes of sports, but you can sip on the Mint Julep for the entire afternoon. You don’t want to get caught lagging on the turn.
Why You Will Love This Cocktail Recipe
This iconic drink will set the stage for the Derby or for any party. For those who love bourbon, this is a classic drink with flavors that bring out the whiskey best.
- A muddler
- A bar spoon
- A measuring tool
- A strainer (optional)
- 2 1/2 oz bourbon
- 6 mint leaves freshly picked
- 1 tsp sugar in powdered form
- 2 tsp water
- Grab a highball glass and carefully press the mint leaves, water, and powdered sugar together.
- Fill the glass with crushed ice.
- Pour in the bourbon and stir it thoroughly until you see the glass frost.
- Add a touch of green by adorning the drink with a sprig of mint.
Tips & Tricks for a Perfect Mint Julep
- Bourbon is the heart of a Mint Julep, so pick one that you love, preferably a high-quality, full-bodied whiskey.
- Use young, fresh mint leaves since they tend to be less bitter and more aromatic.
- Ice, ice baby. Use the smallest cubes you can (or crushed ice, if you have it). The ice slightly dilutes the bourbon, which takes the edge off.
- Stir your Mint Julep until the glass frosts.
A highball glass, also known as a Collins glass, is tall and straight-sided and perfect for your Mint Julep. It’s also often served in a silver cup, a hat tip to the silver cups won by jockeys at the Derby.
By all means, muddle. Muddling, which is often done with a tool that looks like a mini-baseball bat, is a process of crushing or bruising the fresh herbs to release their juices.
Absolutely! You’ve muddled the mint already; adding another sprig as a garnish adds freshness to the drink and delights the nose with each sip.
Mint Julep Variations Worth Trying
- Low Carb Mint Julep: Use Stevia or other sugar substitutes.
- Julep Mocktail: Swap the bourbon for a refreshing soda water.
- Champagne Julep: Substitute champagne for the bourbon if you’re going classy.
- Rosé Julep: Replace bourbon with rosé wine.
- Gin Julep: Opt for gin instead of bourbon.
How to Store
You can definitely make this drink in advance, so you have plenty of time to get dressed for the big party! Whip up a batch of the minty syrup mix (sugar, water, and fresh mint) and store it in the refrigerator. When it’s time to serve, fill the glasses with crushed ice, pour in some bourbon, and top them off with your chilled syrup.
You can store leftover Mint Julep in the fridge, but it probably won’t taste as fresh and fizzy. If you have leftover mint syrup, you can use it for the next evening of cocktails or to sweeten your iced tea. Just make sure to strain out the mint leaves!