Perfect for Derby Day or any other warm day, this cool and refreshing mint julep recipe is made with crushed ice, an easy simple syrup, Kentucky bourbon and fresh mint. This iconic Kentucky cocktail is just what you need this summer!
Looking for other Derby Day party food or drinks? For an alternative drink, try my Kentucky Lemonade Cocktail. For some amazing appetizers, try my Beer Cheese, Sausage Rotel Dip, Bourbon BBQ Smoked Chicken Wings, or Chicken Taco Pinwheels.
MINT JULEP RECIPE
Are you a sports fan? Most people who say yes to that love more traditional sports like football or baseball (yes to both for me please!!), but did you know that the Kentucky Derby is the longest running sporting event in the United States?
It takes place the first Saturday in May, annually, and is held in Louisville, Kentucky. I’ve never actually been, but I have family that lives in Louisville, so I like to think of myself as an honorary Kentuckian!
So why am I going on about the Kentucky derby?
Well because the mint julep is the official drink of the derby, with over 120,000 mint juleps served over the derby weekend each year! That’s a lot of bourbon!
Normally, Derby Day is the first Saturday in May, but with all the health issues the world has had so far this year, it’s be postponed until September 5. I don’t know about you, but I may just have to celebrate the traditional day in May with an ice cold mint julep cocktail!
I’ve never had one of the infamous cocktails at Churchill Downs (where the Derby is run), but this is my spin on the classic mint julep!
HOW TO MAKE A MINT JULEP
- Prepare simple syrup. This is best done ahead of time. It needs to be cooled when you add it to your cocktail. The good news is, a simple syrup can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks, so feel free to make it as early as you need to.
- Add mint and simple syrup to glass and muddle. Muddle is a fancy term for mashing together, so the flavors are “muddled” and not distinctive anymore. You can use a cocktail muddler or the handle of a wooden spoon, and just press down to sort of mash the mint into the syrup.
- Add plenty of crushed ice. Almost all the way up to the top of the glass. If it mounds over a little, that’s totally fine too. You want A LOT of ice.
- Pour in water and bourbon. Don’t worry, you’re not watering down the bourbon, it’s just a splash of water to help take some of the bite and burn out of a solid 2 oz of bourbon.
- Stir, garnish, and serve.
TRADITIONAL WAY TO SERVE A MINT JULEP
At the Kentucky Derby, mint juleps come in a beautiful silver cup. The idea is once you add all the ingredients, the drink is stirred rapidly and the crushed ice causes the cup to frost on the outside.
It’s a beautiful sight, but I don’t have any of those cups, so I usually serve mine in a double old-fashioned glass instead.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MINT JULEPS AND MOJITOS
They both utilize the amazingness of fresh mint, and a simple syrup… but where a mint julep is different is that it doesn’t have any citrus juice and it uses bourbon instead of rum.
ADDITIONAL PREPARATION TIPS
- Use quality bourbon – Bourbon is absolutely the star here, so use your favorite brand. Woodford Reserve is the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby, but Knob Creek and Maker’s Mark are great alternatives.
- Use plenty of ice… preferably crushed – It really chills the drink, and mint juleps are traditionally served with a TON of ice.
- Sipper beware – Mint juleps are a fabulous warm-weather cocktail, and amazingly refreshing to drink! But it’s definitely a strong drink… non-bourbon drinkers may find it a bit too strong, so feel free to add more simple syrup and water to dilute the bourbon.
VARIATIONS OF THIS RECIPE
- NON-ALCOHOLIC – There’s really no way to make a non-alcoholic mint julep taste the same as a regular one, since bourbon has a distinctive taste. But here’s how to make a mint julep that’s beautiful, yet alcohol-free:
- When making the simple syrup, add a splash of lemon juice
- Replace bourbon with ginger ale
- SIMPLE SYRUP ALTERNATIVE – If a simple syrup isn’t possible, add some granulated sugar to the mint and muddle (just as you would with the syrup). I definitely prefer the syrup though, since sugar can make the drink a bit grainy.
MAKING A MINT JULEP AHEAD OF TIME
This cocktail comes together SO quickly, there’s really no need for making it ahead of time – and you want it to be ice cold when you sip it, so it’s definitely best served fresh.
However, you CAN, and should, make the simple syrup ahead of time.
Simple syrup can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
There really isn’t any storage necessary, as this recipe is only for a single cocktail.
SPECIAL EQUIPMENT FOR THIS RECIPE
- Cocktail Muddler – a wooden spoon handle works well too, but I really love the grooves on this muddler… it works SO well!
- Double Old Fashioned Glasses – these glasses are perfect for so many drinks, and not just cocktails!
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Recipe originally published in 2018, and has been republished in 2020 with additional information.
Mint Julep Recipe
- 4-5 fresh mint leaves, roughly torn
- 1 1/2 - 2 oz simple syrup (recipe below in recipe notes)
- crushed ice
- splash of cold water
- 2 oz bourbon
- sprig of fresh mint (for garnish - optional)
- To bottom of serving glass, add mint leaves and simple syrup. Muddle together with a muddler or handle of a wooden spoon.
- Top with plenty of crushed ice, then pour in splash of cold water, and bourbon.
- Stir, garnish with the sprig of mint, and serve!