You can’t have the Kentucky Derby without mint juleps, of course! This classic bourbon cocktail is the very backbone of Southern entertaining. (This beverage is its refreshing runner-up.)
“When I think of a mint julep, I think of the Derby, but also a day on the porch with company,” says Lynn Maggio, who was Mrs. Alabama in 2012. “I’d say a mint julep is a refreshing, social comfort and the very scent of spring and summer in the South.” But thanks to their utter deliciousness, mint juleps are now being sipped across the United States.
For more on how to make a mint julep, check out our classic recipe. Paired with the step-by-step guide below, you’ll be impressing guests in no time!
Buy the right bourbon
You’ll want to pick up bourbon whiskey, the American-pedigreed whiskey whose name evokes both New Orleans’ Bourbon Street and Kentucky’s Bourbon County. While you’re at it, look for a bonded bourbon such as Old Grand-Dad or Evan Williams, suggests Dustin Haarstad, the owner of Black Cat, a popular whiskey bar in Seattle. “One hundred proof bourbon whiskies stand tall amongst the crushed ice,” he says.
Start with crushed ice
Juleps are meant to be made with and sipped from crushed ice—never cubed—our experts unanimously agree! “Otherwise, it’s just whiskey and mint in a glass,” says Maurizio Chiovaro, a hospitality pro in New York.
How to make a mint julep
To make the mint syrup:
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups loosely packed chopped fresh mint
For each serving:
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup crushed ice
- 1/2 to 1 ounce bourbon
- Mint sprig
Step 1: Make your simple syrup
Our classic mint julep levels up by calling for a homemade mint-infused simple syrup. To make it, combine sugar, water and chopped mint in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then cook until sugar is dissolved, stirring now and then. Remove from the heat and cool to room temp before moving on to the next step.
Step 2: Strain the syrup
Line a mesh strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth or a coffee filter. Strain the mint syrup; discard mint. Cover and refrigerate the syrup for at least 2 hours or until chilled.
Step 3: Mix your juleps
For each serving, place crushed ice in a metal julep cup or rocks glass. Pour 1/4 cup mint syrup and a splash of bourbon into each glass; stir until mixture is well chilled. Garnish with a fresh mint sprig. And they’re off!
How to present a beautiful drink
Wake up the mint
“It’s not just about the drink,” says Maggio, of Mrs. Alabama fame. “The presentation is important in the South as well.” When you garnish the drink with fresh mint, “give the sprig a good slap,” adds Haarstad. This might sound crazy, but he says a gentle smack warms up the mint to bring out essential oils and promote minty aromatics with every sip.
Use the right cups
For a real treat, invest in Kentucky Derby mint julep cups, which should be pewter and held only at the bottom to allow frost to form on the outside of the cup. You should also cut your straw short—an inch or so above the top of the drink.
The Derby is in early May, so you’ll want to have your mint julep skills polished and ready by then. You’ll also want to keep these Derby Day buffet recipes handy!
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