Dive into the world of the Mint Julep recipe, the iconic cocktail that perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the Kentucky Derby and the charm of Southern hospitality. This refreshing beverage, with its unique blend of quality bourbon, fresh mint, homemade simple syrup, and crushed ice, has stood the test of time as a beloved American classic.
The secret to its allure lies in the balance of its robust, bourbon-rich flavor with the cool, refreshing notes of mint. Whether you're planning a Derby day party or simply longing for a thirst-quenching summer cocktail, mastering the Mint Julep is a rewarding endeavor. Follow us on this journey as we uncover the nuances that transform these simple ingredients into a timeless, refreshing cocktail.
How to make a Mint Julep
craft a unique twist on the classic Mint Julep, incorporating a few creative elements for an extra touch of intrigue.
- 2 cups of water
- 2 cups of raw cane sugar
- ½ cup of fresh mint leaves, plus additional sprigs for garnish
- 8 cups of crushed ice
- 32 ounces of Fat Baby Bourbon
- Zest one lemon
- A pinch of sea salt
If you don't have raw cane sugar, traditional white sugar will suffice.
If you want to venture outside bourbon, a good quality rye whiskey could also provide an interesting taste profile.
In lieu of fresh mint, you could use mint tea bags for the simple syrup infusion, though fresh is always best.
What bourbon goes in a mint julep?
There are several high-quality bourbons that can be substituted in your Mint Julep to create a top-notch cocktail if you don't have access to Fat Baby Bourbon (ask your local retailer to stock it!). Here are great alternatives:
- Four Roses Single Barrel: This bourbon offers a great balance of spice, fruit, and oak flavors which would harmonize nicely with the mint in a julep.
- Buffalo Trace: Known for its rich and complex flavor, Buffalo Trace could add an additional layer of sophistication to your cocktail.
- Woodford Reserve: This is a traditional favorite for Mint Juleps due to its balanced flavor profile of dried fruit, vanilla, and toasted oak.
- Knob Creek: With a full-bodied and rich flavor with hints of oak and caramel, Knob Creek can make a robust and slightly sweeter Mint Julep.
- Bulleit Bourbon: A high rye content gives this bourbon a bold, spicy character that can add a kick to your Mint Julep. This bourbon also has undertones of maple, oak, and nutmeg, which could complement the sweetness of the mint well.
Remember, the best bourbon for your Mint Julep is often a matter of personal preference, and it can be a fun exercise to try making the cocktail with different brands to see which you prefer. Enjoy your tasting journey!
- Start by preparing the mint simple syrup. In a small saucepan, combine water and raw cane sugar. Heat this over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar has completely dissolved.
- Once the sugar has dissolved, add the fresh mint leaves to the saucepan. Let this simmer on low heat for about 10 minutes. This will allow the mint leaves to infuse their flavor into the syrup. After 10 minutes, remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the syrup to cool to room temperature.
- As your syrup cools, take this opportunity to zest your lemon. The zest will add a bright and refreshing flavor to your cocktail that pairs beautifully with the mint.
- Once your syrup has cooled, strain it to remove the mint leaves. To your strained syrup, add your lemon zest and a pinch of sea salt. Stir to combine. This unique salty-sweet, citrus-infused syrup will serve as the backbone flavor for your mint julep.
- Now, assemble your cocktails. Fill your glasses (ideally a silver goblet or highball glass) with crushed ice. Pour 4 ounces of bourbon and about 1/4 cup (or to taste) of your unique simple syrup over the ice in each glass.
- Stir well to mix the bourbon and syrup together, chilling the mixture as you stir. Finally, garnish each cocktail with a fresh mint sprig.
- Your unique Mint Juleps are ready to serve! Enjoy the classic refreshment of the mint and bourbon, highlighted by the intriguing notes of lemon zest and sea salt.
This cocktail is best enjoyed on a warm day with good company!
Remember, the best Mint Julep is the one that suits your personal taste, so feel free to adjust the quantities of syrup and bourbon as per your liking.
Related: Bourbon Cocktails
What is in a Mint Julep?
Bourbon is a type of American whiskey that's primarily made from corn (at least 51%) and aged in new charred oak barrels. This gives it a distinctive sweet and full-bodied flavor, with notes of vanilla, oak, and sometimes a hint of fruit. Bourbon is the backbone of the Mint Julep, providing the cocktail with its robust and distinctive flavor. It's important to choose a quality bourbon for your Mint Julep, as the flavor of the bourbon greatly influences the overall taste of the drink.
Fresh Mint Leaves
Mint is a versatile herb that is loved for its refreshing, aromatic, and slightly sweet flavor. In the context of a Mint Julep, it is used in two ways. Some of the leaves are roughly chopped and added to the simple syrup during its preparation, lending their bright, fresh flavor to the sweetener. Additional mint leaves are used whole as a garnish, contributing to the drink's visual appeal and offering a burst of freshness with each sip.
Simple syrup is a basic sugar solution commonly used in a variety of cocktails, including the Mint Julep. It's made by heating equal parts sugar and water until the sugar is completely dissolved. The result is a sweet liquid that mixes easily with other ingredients. For the Mint Julep, fresh mint leaves are added to the syrup during preparation, infusing the syrup with their refreshing flavor and making it a "mint simple syrup".
The use of crushed ice in a Mint Julep is crucial to the drink's character. Because the ice is crushed, it has a greater surface area, which allows it to cool the drink quickly and maintain its chilled temperature. The ice also dilutes the drink just enough to mellow the bourbon and blend the flavors together.
A Mint Julep is traditionally garnished with a sprig of fresh mint. This not only adds a pop of color and an appealing fragrance to the drink, it also provides a hint of mint flavor with each sip. Some people also like to dust the top of the drink with a little powdered sugar, which gives it a decorative touch and can enhance its sweetness.
The Mint Julep has a long and storied history that reaches back several centuries, primarily within the Southern United States. Its origins, however, are somewhat nebulous and are often the subject of spirited debate among cocktail historians.
It's generally agreed that the term "julep" originated from the Arabic word "julab," which was a rosewater-based sweet drink. Over time, when the julab made its way to the Mediterranean region, native mint replaced the rose petals, bringing the beverage closer to the julep we know today.
As for the American Mint Julep, the earliest references appear in the late 18th century. At that time, the term "julep" was used broadly to refer to a sweet drink used to take medicine. The use of mint and bourbon in the julep likely came about as the drink evolved into a leisurely, refreshing cocktail.
The Mint Julep was particularly popular in the southern states, where the mint was abundant and whiskey, especially bourbon, was the distilled spirit of choice. Virginia is most often credited as the birthplace of the Mint Julep, but its popularity quickly spread across the South.
The cocktail's association with the Kentucky Derby began in 1938 when the race started promoting the Mint Julep as its official drink. Each year, nearly 120,000 Mint Juleps are served over the two-day event at Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby.
In addition to its fame at the Kentucky Derby, the Mint Julep has been immortalized in literature and film, perhaps most notably in Margaret Mitchell's "Gone with the Wind," further cementing its place in the annals of American cocktail history.
Today, the Mint Julep maintains its status as a symbol of Southern hospitality and tradition. Its refreshing mint flavor, combined with the kick of bourbon and the sweetness of the simple syrup, continues to make it a beloved cocktail, especially on warm summer days and, of course, the first Saturday in May — Derby Day.
Related: Bourbon Cocktails
Why you'll love the Mint Julep cocktail
There's so much to love about the Mint Julep cocktail, making it a standout favorite among connoisseurs and casual drinkers alike. Here's why you'll absolutely fall head over heels for this iconic Southern classic.
- Refreshing Mint: Mint is the cornerstone of this cocktail, offering a crisp, refreshing aroma and taste. Whether you've had a long day or are simply lounging by the pool, the invigorating flavor of mint in a Mint Julep can instantly uplift your spirits and cool you down.
- The Sweet and Smooth Balance: The Mint Julep expertly balances the robustness of bourbon with the sweetness of the simple syrup. This delightful interplay ensures that the drink isn't overly sweet or too potent, making it a pleasure to sip on.
- Bourbon Lovers' Delight: If you're a fan of bourbon, the Mint Julep is a celebration of this beloved spirit. The bourbon takes center stage in this cocktail, offering depth and complexity that's beautifully complemented by the mint and sugar.
- Easy to Make: Despite its sophisticated taste, a Mint Julep is surprisingly simple to make. All you need is fresh mint, bourbon, sugar, water, and crushed ice. With just a few steps, you can craft this cocktail right at home and impress your friends and family.
- Historic Charm: Enjoying a Mint Julep is like taking a sip of history. With roots that stretch back centuries and a significant association with the prestigious Kentucky Derby, this cocktail offers an immersive experience that transcends the present moment.
- Versatility: While a Mint Julep is synonymous with the Kentucky Derby, don't let that limit you. This cocktail is a fabulous choice for any occasion, from barbecues and garden parties to weddings and quiet nights at home.
- Aesthetic Appeal: Finally, there's no denying the visual appeal of a Mint Julep. Served in a chilled silver or pewter cup and adorned with a sprig of fresh mint, this cocktail is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the palate.
So, whether you're a seasoned cocktail enthusiast or a curious beginner, the Mint Julep is a delightful exploration of flavor and tradition that you're bound to love.
Recipe Final Thoughts
The Mint Julep is more than just a cocktail. It's a delightful blend of history, tradition, and flavor that leaves a lasting impression. From its refreshing mintiness to its smooth bourbon base, it's a drink that invites you to savor every sip, enjoy every moment, and immerse yourself in its rich backstory.
Whether you're celebrating the Kentucky Derby, hosting a backyard gathering, or simply enjoying a peaceful evening at home, a Mint Julep adds a touch of elegance and sophistication to any occasion. So, take out your best silver goblet or elegant glass, gather your ingredients, and embrace the opportunity to create your own Mint Julep.
You'll discover that this iconic cocktail is not just about the drinking experience; it's also about the joy of creation, the celebration of history, and the love for quality ingredients. Cheers to the charm of the South, and cheers from Fat Baby!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between a mint julep and a mojito?
The primary difference between a mint julep and a mojito is the spirit used. A mint julep is a bourbon-based cocktail traditionally associated with the American South, specifically the Kentucky Derby. A mojito, on the other hand, is a rum-based cocktail with Cuban origins. Both drinks feature fresh mint and sugar, but mojitos also include lime juice, which adds a citrusy flavor not typically found in mint juleps.
Do you need crushed ice for mint julep?
Crushed ice is traditionally used in a mint julep. The small size of the ice pieces allows for quicker chilling of the drink, and also creates a frosted effect on the glass or goblet. While you can technically use cubed ice, crushed ice is preferred for its aesthetic appeal and its cooling efficiency.
Can you use a Moscow Mule mug for Mint Julep?
Yes, you can use a Moscow Mule mug for a Mint Julep. While Mint Juleps are traditionally served in silver or pewter cups, a Moscow Mule mug — typically made of copper — can provide a similar thermal conductivity, keeping your cocktail cold. The mug may not provide the exact traditional aesthetic, but it won't negatively impact the taste of your drink.
What type of mint is best for mint Juleps?
Spearmint is the best type of mint to use for Mint Juleps. It's a variety of mint that has a sweet, mild flavor and a refreshing aroma, which pairs beautifully with the rich warmth of bourbon.
What can I use instead of mint leaves in mint julep?
If you don't have mint leaves, you can use a few drops of mint extract as a substitute. Be careful with the quantity as mint extract is quite potent. Alternatively, fresh basil leaves can be used, providing a unique twist on the traditional mint flavor profile. The drink will be different, but still refreshing and flavorful.
What is the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby?
The Mint Julep is the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby. This cocktail, made with mint, sugar, crushed ice, and Kentucky bourbon, has been associated with the Derby for over a century.
What is the most expensive drink at the Derby?
The most expensive drink at the Derby is the Woodford Reserve $1,000 Mint Julep. The drink is served in a silver cup and features ingredients sourced from around the world, including ice made from rainwater captured on the island of Tasmania and mint from Ireland.
What is the $1000 dollar drink at the Kentucky Derby?
The $1,000 drink at the Kentucky Derby is a special version of the Mint Julep made by Woodford Reserve. This Mint Julep is served in a custom-made silver or gold cup, garnished with mint from Ireland and sugar from Australia. The purchase of each cup also includes a donation to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund. The steep price is not just for the cocktail itself, but also for the unique vessel and the charitable contribution.