Mint Julep

Story by Natalie
Mint Julep
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This classic mint julep is the best bourbon-based cocktail. It happens to be the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby, but this cool, refreshing tipple is delicious any time of the year!

Mint Julep: The Kentucky Derby Drink

Whether you have been to the Kentucky Derby or not, you are probably familiar with the traditional drink of the Derby—a classic mint julep. With a just four ingredients, this cooling, subtly sweet and boozy Kentucky Derby drink doesn’t need to be reserved for sipping on the Churchill Downs.

My love for the Kentucky Derby runs deep and hard. There's a drama to it all that I—as a total horse racing outsider—really appreciate. The absurdly beautiful clothing and oversized hats traditionally worn to the sporting event get me every time, but what I really love is the excuse to drink mint juleps. This mint julep recipe will be a hit with anyone who loves good bourbon and is in need of a refreshing, minty cocktail—flamboyant hats, racing horses and dramatic outfits recommended, but not required!

Mint Julep

What Are The Four Essential Mint Julep Ingredients?

There’s something sort of jaunty about the name ‘mint julep’. It sounds like it might be a little fancy. So, what is in a mint julep anyway? Well, actually a classic mint julep recipe has only four key ingredients! Fancy and easy? Yes, please!

  • Bourbon: While it’s true that for some mixed drinks, you don’t need to use the very best booze (although we never advocate using anything really bottom-shelf), to make a great mint julep, you’ll want to use the best bourbon you’ve got! With only four ingredients, the  flavor of bourbon really defines this classic cocktail, so use one that you’d happily drink straight.
  • Fresh mint leaves. Look for bright green leaves, and don’t forget to give them a rinse.
  • Sugar. While you can use sugar straight out of the cupboard, the best mint julep recipe relies on the use of a quick and easy mint julep simple syrup! A classic 1:1 simple syrup allows the sugar to blend seamlessly into the bourbon—no graininess at all, just a silky, slightly sweet, refreshing bourbon cocktail. YUM.
  • Crushed ice. It may sound like a hassle, but crushed ice is KEY. It’ll ensure nice frosty silver or pewter cups, which are the traditional way to serve this classic, elegant drink.

What Does A Mint Julep Taste Like?

Mint juleps are pure summer in a glass—minty and cooling, a little sweet, and just enough booze to help you forget how hot you are. Like so many classic cocktails, the magic of a mint julep is the result of a triumvirate of flavors working together:  

  • Whiskey: Specifically bourbon. Depending on which brand of bourbon you will taste a hint of woody or oakyness.
  • Fresh mint: Adds a refreshing and cooling sensation.
  • Plain white sugar: Again, the best way to incorporate sugar is by mixing up a simple syrup, which is simply a 1:1 ratio of water to sugar, stirred together over low heat until a the sugar has dissolved. A little bit adds just enough sweetness to complement the boozy punch of bourbon and herbaceous pop of mint.
Mint Julep
Mint Julep

How To Make A Mint Julep:

We have taken some liberties here and took some shortcuts to make this a ridiculously easy mint julep recipe to serve to a crowd! Instead of having to muddle mint leaves and sugar cubes together for each individual drink—no one wants to spend the entire party mixing drinks, right?—we’ve come up with a mint julep simple syrup! This allows you to mix up a big batch of mint juleps, and spend your party enjoying your friends rather than muddling and mixing behind the bar. Here’s what to do:  

  1. Make mint simple syrup. No need to muddle the mint and sugar for every drink. Instead, mix up an easy mint-infused simple syrup that you add straight to the bourbon and crushed ice.
  2. Grab some crushed ice! You can use a ziplock bag and a rolling pin or get fancy with legit, julep-making, real deal ice crusher!
  3. Fill your julep cup until it’s mounded with crushed ice. You can use whatever cup you have on hand, but julep cups are pretty fun to have around.
  4. Add your bourbon of choice, and then a drizzle of minty simple syrup. Start with just a little simple syrup, and let guests add more as they desire—remember, you can always make it sweeter, but you can’t unsweeten.
  5. Give the finished mint julep a little swirl, and garnish with fresh mint.  

What Is The Best Bourbon For Mint Juleps?

If you don’t already have a favorite bourbon, here are six of the best bourbon for your mint julep! These are all pretty widely available. It’s also fun to go to your local liquor store and just ask for guidance. Let the seller know your budget and that you’re making mint juleps—you never know when you might discover a new favorite!

  • Blanton’s Original Single Barrel. Spicy aromas of dried citrus and orange peels with a hint of grassy rye and pepper. Full, soft and mellow.
  • Woodford Reserve Bourbon. Charred oak, toffee, vanilla and pepper are the dominate this spicy, classic bourbon.
  • Bulleit Bourbon. Oaky, spicy and sweetly mellow, this bourbon has a wonderfully complex taste with hints of vanilla and honey.   
  • Maker’s Mark- Smooth and approachable with molasses and dark fruit flavors.
  • Buffalo Trace. Subtly spicy and sweet at first, with notes of brown sugar and cinnamon.
  • Four Roses Bourbon. Hints of corn and vanilla compliment floral aromas. Simple and mellow.
Mint Julep

How To Serve This Easy Mint Julep Recipe.

In other words, what’s up with those crazy-cute julep cups and do I need to buy them? In short, YES. We love serving mint juleps in classic silver or pewter julep cups! It’s the best way to sip on this classic Kentucky Derby drink! The silver, pewter or stainless steel cups help keep the drink nice and cold. It yields plenty of condensation which can be perfect on a hot southern night. Again, we love these, but there are load options out there, at all price points.

We do however realize that buying an extra set of glassware for one type of drink might be unnecessary and this classic mint julep recipe will still taste delicious in any glass of your choosing.

What You Need to Make a Mint Julep.

Besides picking up your mint julep ingredients at the grocery and liquor store, you might want to to grab a few of these specialty items:

  • Silver Mint Julep Cups : The perfect way to serve this classic drink.
  • Premade Simple Syrup: In a hurry? Skip making simple syrup at home and buy the premade stuff in stead!
  • Ice Crusher: Get this specialty machine to make the best crushed ice for this best mint julep recipe!
Mint Julep
Mint Julep

Throwing a Kentucky Derby Party?

Be sure to check out our post on How To Throw A Kentucky Derby Party!  

When you make this Mint Julep recipe, we want to hear about it! Share your handiwork with us on Instagram by tagging @themodernproper and #themodernproper so we can celebrate along with you. Happy drinking!

Mint Julep

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped
2 cups Kentucky Bourbon
extra mint for garnish

Method

  1. Combine water, sugar and mint leaves in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil over high heat, until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and allow syrup to cool. Pour cooled syrup through a fine mesh sieve to remove mint leaves. Set aside.
  2. When the time comes to prepare the Mint Julips, fill 4 tin cups with crushed ice. Pour 4 oz. Bourbon and 1.5 oz (or more to taste) mint syrup into each cup. Gently stir, enjoy.