The mint julep is a classic southern cocktail with a rich history dating all the way back to the 18th century. The Mint Julep is best known as the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. It’s estimated that over 120,000 mint juleps are served at Churchill Downs every year. With the Derby coming up this weekend we thought it was ideal time to fill you in on the perfect Mint Julep recipe.
The Mint Julep traditionally consists of a blend of bourbon, sugar syrup, fresh mint leaves and ice. This refreshing concoction is making a serious comeback in bars across the United States and the rest of the world as more mixologists tip their hats to the old faithful’s.
With minimal ingredients and no fancy equipment needed, the mint julep is an easy cocktail to master at home. We’ve provided our go-to mint julep recipe, along with the best bourbons to use for mint juleps and the best mint julep alternatives for those who aren’t fans of this sweet, bourbon-based blend.
Classic Mint Julep Recipe
The original and the best, the traditional mint julep recipe uses only three basic ingredients:
- 2 oz bourbon
- ¼ oz simple sugar syrup (or 1 teaspoon of caster sugar)
- 8 fresh mint leaves
Directions: In a julep cup, highball glass or old-fashioned glass, muddle the sugar syrup with the mint leaves. This will break down the leaves and release essential oils into the mixture. Pour in the bourbon, fill the glass with ice and stir until the glass becomes frosted on the outside. Garnish with an extra sprig of mint and serve immediately.
For those who prefer to tone it down a notch, there’s also the option to add a dash of seltzer, bitters or ginger ale.
What is the best bourbon for making mint juleps?
As bourbon is the star of this cocktail, many people make the mistake of thinking only premium bourbons should be used. In reality, when it comes to the mint julep, the muddled blend of sugar and mint will detract from the flavor profile of the bourbon. This will diminish the notes of the liquor, so there’s no need to reach for top shelf bourbons.
Bartenders generally recommend you opt for high-proof bourbons, as the ice in the julep will slowly dilute the bourbon as it melts.
Naturally, as the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby, using a Kentucky bourbon for your mint julep is the way to go. With over 20 Kentucky distilleries producing over 200 brands of bourbon there’s no shortage of options. We love Makers Mark, Wild Turkey and Four Roses Single Barrel, but it all comes down to personal choice. Check out this article from GQ for some helpful hints to help you decide on the best bourbon for mint juleps.
Mint Julep Alternatives
Despite its Derby Day popularity, the mint julep isn’t for everyone. For those who don’t enjoy the spicy, sweet and minty blend of this timeless cocktail, here are a couple of delicious mint julep alternatives you can reach for instead.
Mint Julep Margarita
This zesty drink is a nod to the classic mint julep, with a distinctively Mexican twist thanks to the addition of tequila and lime.
- 1 ½ oz of silver tequila
- 1 ½ oz of bourbon
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 cups water
- Fresh limes
- Bunch of fresh mint, plus extra for garnish
Directions: Create a sugar syrup using the water, sugar and mint. Mix the three ingredients together in a pan, bring to a simmer and stir occasionally. Once the sugar has dissolved, remove from the heat and leave to cool before straining. Combine the tequila, bourbon, juice of one lime and 3 oz of the mint sugar syrup into a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice and then shake to blend. Pour over ice into a salt-rimmed (optional) margarita glass or highball glass and garnish with a sprig of mint and slice of lime.
Blueberry Mint Julep
Coined the “Mint Blulep” by The Straight Up, our take on this cocktail combines the classic mint julep base with blueberries for a sweeter, more complex spin on things.
For each drink, you’ll need:
- 2 ½ oz bourbon
- 1 oz mint sugar syrup (see recipe in Mint Julep Margarita above)
- 1 oz blueberry mint puree
Directions: To make the blueberry puree, combine 2/3 of a cup of blueberries with 2 tablespoons of the mint sugar syrup and blend in a food processor. Pour the bourbon, mint sugar syrup and puree into an old-fashioned glass. Top with ice and stir until the glass becomes frosted. Garnish with a sprig of mint and enjoy!
There you have it, now you are ready to enjoy this weekends Kentucky Derby. Grab some bourbon and mint and tune in on Saturday May 5th around 6:30 PM est for the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby. Go Baby Go!