5 from 6 votes
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Kentucky Derby Mint Julep (Classic Bourbon Cocktail)

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The ideal cocktail for Derby Day or any other warm sunny day, this refreshing and cool Kentucky Derby Mint Julep recipe is made with a few simple ingredients. This iconic Kentucky Derby cocktail is perfect for hot summer days.

Mint julep in a metal mug with ice scattered on the wooden table.

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Would you consider yourself a sports fan? Those of you who said yes may be thinking about basketball or football. However, did you know that the Kentucky Derby is actually the longest running sporting event in the United States!

As part of the celebration of this iconic race, the mint julep is the official drink of the  Derby serving nearly 120,000 during the derby weekend each year. For those of you counting, yes, that’s a lot of bourbons!

Are you looking for a fun way to celebrate Derby Day? Or perhaps you are just looking for something cool and refreshing with just a hint of sweetness to enjoy this summer. Whatever the reason, you will love this perfect Mint Julep cocktail recipe.

Want more delicious cocktail recipes to try out?  If you loved this recipe and you’d like some more cocktail recipes, you could start with a kiwi and mint mojito. Or if you have some tequila in the cabinet, try making a fruity twist on a classic with the mango margarita.

Still have some fresh mint left? You can make some peppermint hot chocolate bombs with this easy recipe to use it up.

Why You’ll Love This Recipe

  • Simple to Prepare: With just a handful of ingredients – fresh mint, bourbon whiskey, sugar, and water – this Mint Julep recipe is incredibly easy to mix, making it perfect for both cocktail aficionados and beginners.
  • Refreshingly Cool: The combination of crushed ice and mint leaves not only lends a beautiful presentation but also ensures each sip is as refreshing as it is delicious.
  • Versatile for Any Occasion: Though synonymous with the Kentucky Derby, the mint julep is a splendid choice for any gathering, from casual summer barbecues to elegant soirées.
  • A Taste of Tradition: Enjoying a mint julep connects you to a centuries-old tradition, providing not just a beverage but an experience steeped in American history.

What Is A Mint Julep?

A mint julep is an old cocktail dating back to the eighteenth century and started in the southern United States. A fun fact you might not know about the mint julep is that it used to be a doctor’s prescription for a stomach ache! In 1938, the Kentucky Derby officially started promoting it as their official drink. 

What’s in This Kentucky Derby Mint Julep Recipe?

Ingredients for mint julep sitting on a wooden table.
  • Kentucky Bourbon: The soul of the mint julep, Kentucky bourbon brings a smooth, rich, and slightly sweet flavor that perfectly complements the freshness of the mint. Select a high-quality bourbon for the best tasting cocktail.
  • Simple Syrup: Used to sweeten the cocktail, simple syrup dissolves easily, ensuring each sip is perfectly balanced. You can easily make it at home by combining equal parts sugar and water and heating until the sugar dissolves.
  • Mint Leaves, Fresh: The fresh mint leaves are not just a garnish; their essential oils contribute a cool, refreshing aroma and taste that is crucial for the authentic mint julep experience.
  • Crushed Ice (Pebble Ice): The finely crushed ice chills the drink rapidly, creating a frosty exterior on the glass that’s both enticing and refreshing, enhancing the overall drinking experience.
  • Cold Water: A splash of cold water is added to slightly dilute the bourbon, making the drink more palatable and refreshing, especially on a hot day.
  • Sprigs of Fresh Mint: For garnish, a few sprigs of fresh mint are added to the top of the cocktail, intensifying the drink’s aroma and adding a touch of elegance to its presentation.

The complete list of ingredients, quantities, and instructions can be found in the printable recipe card below.

Substitutions and Variations

  • Sugar Alternatives: If you’re avoiding sugar, you can easily substitute the simple syrup with a sweetener of your choice, such as honey, agave nectar, or a sugar-free syrup, adjusting the quantity to taste.
  • Alternative Spirits: While Kentucky bourbon is traditional, don’t shy away from experimenting with other spirits. Rye whiskey can add a spicier kick, or for a milder variant, use a smooth American whiskey.
  • Fruity Twists: For a fruity julep, muddle in some berries, peaches, or watermelon with the mint leaves. This adds a natural sweetness and a beautiful hint of color.
  • Herbal Variations: Swap out or add other herbs alongside mint for a different flavor profile. Basil, rosemary, or thyme can each add an intriguing twist to the classic recipe.
  • Non-Alcoholic Version: To enjoy a mint julep without the alcohol, simply replace the bourbon with cold brewed tea or a ginger ale for a refreshing, booze-free option that everyone can enjoy.
  • Sparkling Mint Julep: For an effervescent version, top your mint julep with a splash of club soda or sparkling water. This adds a refreshing fizz that’s perfect for hot summer days.

How To Make Classic Mint Julep Step by Step

Collage of muddling mint.
  1. Add the mint leaves to a small bowl or the bottom of the serving glass.
  2. Pour the simple syrup over the mint leaves. (Photos 1 & 2)
  3. Use a muddler to blend the mint with the syrup by breaking up the leaves. (Photo 3)
Collage of assembling a mint julep.
  1. Fill the glass with plenty of ice. (Photos 4 & 5)
  2. Add a splash of cold water to the glass.
  3. Pour in the bourbon and mix well. (Photo 6)
  4. Garnish the drink with a sprig of mint.
  5. Serve and enjoy your classic Mint Julep!
Tow mugs of mint julep garnished with fresh mint.

Recipe Tips

  • Gently Muddle: When combining the mint leaves and simple syrup, use a light touch to muddle. Over-muddling can break the leaves into small pieces that may interfere with the drinking experience and release bitterness.
  • Chill Your Glass: Placing your serving glass in the freezer for a few minutes before assembling the cocktail can enhance the frosty feel and keep your mint julep cooler for longer.
  • Quality Matters: The quality of the bourbon can significantly affect the taste of your mint julep. Opt for a high-quality Kentucky bourbon that you enjoy.
  • Ice is Key: The finely crushed ice not only chills the drink but also contributes to its traditional presentation. If you don’t have an ice crusher, you can wrap ice cubes in a clean towel and gently crush them with a rolling pin or a mallet.
  • Adjust Sweetness: If you prefer your cocktail a bit sweeter or less so, feel free to adjust the amount of simple syrup to your taste. Remember, it’s easier to add more than to balance an overly sweet drink.
  • Serve Immediately: Mint juleps are best enjoyed fresh. The ice begins to melt quickly, so serve immediately after mixing to enjoy its perfect balance and refreshing qualities.
  • Experiment with Garnishes: While mint is traditional, you can add a personalized touch with additional garnishes. A twist of lemon peel or a small wedge of lime can add a nice zest.
  • Prep for Groups: If you’re serving mint juleps at a party, prepare a larger quantity of simple syrup and have plenty of mint leaves and crushed ice ready to streamline the mixing process.

How To Make A Mint Julep Non-Alcoholic

If you don’t drink or are looking for a way to make this drink tasty for every age, you can easily transform this beverage into a non-alcoholic version.

Disneyland serves a nonalcoholic version of a mint julep that is just as delicious as the real deal but ideal for families with small kids.

  • Sugar
  • Water
  • Club soda
  • Crème de Menthe syrup
  • Lemonade concentrate
  • Lime juice concentrate

To prepare, all you need to do is fill a tall glass with ice, mix the ingredients, and garnish with mint.

Storing Tips 

For any unused simple syrup, store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 weeks. However, once the mint leaves have been muddled into the syrup or the cocktail has been mixed, it is best consumed within the day as the fresh mint will quickly wilt, and the ice will dilute the drink.

A metal mug with mint julep sitting on a wooden table.

Serving Suggestions

If you order a mint julep from the Kentucky Derby, you’ll get your cocktail in a beautiful sterling silver julep cups. This idea is that once you stir the drink and all the ingredients, you’ll get a frosty cup. It’s a beautiful sight but can be served in any glass.

Mint juleps, with their refreshing and slightly sweet profile, complement a variety of dishes:

  • Southern Comfort Food: Classic Southern dishes, such as fried chicken, pulled pork sliders, or shrimp and grits, make delicious partners. The rich and savory flavors of the food balance the lightness of the mint julep.
  • Finger Foods and Appetizers: Opt for light appetizers like chicken pesto sandwiches, cheese platters, or caprese skewers. These simple yet flavorful options allow the mint julep to shine as the star of your event.
  • Barbecue: If you’re planning a backyard barbecue, mint juleps are a perfect match. The smoky flavors of grilled meats, vegetables or even something like grilled Mexican street corn are beautifully offset by the cool, aromatic cocktail.
  • Desserts: For a sweet finish, pair mint juleps with fruit-based desserts or anything featuring mint. Lemon tarts, berry pavlovas, or homemade peppermint bark are fantastic choices that complement the drink’s refreshing qualities.
  • Be sure to download our free printable Kentucky Derby Games and Activities to make your day more special!

Recipe FAQs

What is the traditional mint julep cup?

Everyone knows this easy mint julep recipe must be served in the right mint julep cups! You’re going to want to use a tumbler made of pewter or silver to be “legit,” – but if you don’t have that, still drink and enjoy! 

What is the difference between a mint julep and a mojito?

While the two drinks are similar, they also have differences. A mint julep, for example, is made with bourbon and no citrus flavoring, while a mojito typically uses rum. 

What is the best mint for mint julep?

Most will use spearmint when making this classic cocktail. Also, the greener and brighter the green coloring on the leaves, the stronger the mint scent! 

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Two Mint Juleps in metal mugs.
5 from 6 votes

Kentucky Derby Mint Julep (Classic Bourbon Cocktail)


Author: Kim Schob
Course: Beverages
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes
Yields 1 Serving
This easy Mint Julep recipe is one that everyone will love!

Ingredients 

  • 2 ounces (56 ⅔ g) Kentucky Bourbon
  • 2 ounces (56 ⅔ g) simple syrup can use 1½ ounces as well
  • 5 mint leaves fresh
  • crushed ice pebble ice
  • splash of cold water
  • sprig of fresh mint garnish, optional

Instructions

  • Add the mint leaves to a small bowl or the bottom of the serving glass.
    5 mint leaves
  • Pour the simple syrup over the mint leaves.
    2 ounces simple syrup
  • Use a muddler to blend the mint with the syrup by breaking up the leaves.
  • Fill the glass with plenty of ice.
    crushed ice
  • Add a splash of cold water to the glass.
    splash of cold water
  • Pour in the bourbon and mix well.
    2 ounces Kentucky Bourbon
  • Garnish the drink with a sprig of mint.
    sprig of fresh mint
  • Serve and enjoy your classic Mint Julep!

Notes

  • Gently Muddle: When combining the mint leaves and simple syrup, use a light touch to muddle. Over-muddling can break the leaves into small pieces that may interfere with the drinking experience and release bitterness.
  • Chill Your Glass: Placing your serving glass in the freezer for a few minutes before assembling the cocktail can enhance the frosty feel and keep your mint julep cooler for longer.
  • Quality Matters: The quality of the bourbon can significantly affect the taste of your mint julep. Opt for a high-quality Kentucky bourbon that you enjoy.
  • Ice is Key: The finely crushed ice not only chills the drink but also contributes to its traditional presentation. If you don’t have an ice crusher, you can wrap ice cubes in a clean towel and gently crush them with a rolling pin or a mallet.
  • Adjust Sweetness: If you prefer your cocktail a bit sweeter or less so, feel free to adjust the amount of simple syrup to your taste. Remember, it’s easier to add more than to balance an overly sweet drink.
  • Serve Immediately: Mint juleps are best enjoyed fresh. The ice begins to melt quickly, so serve immediately after mixing to enjoy its perfect balance and refreshing qualities.
  • Experiment with Garnishes: While mint is traditional, additional garnishes can add a personalized touch. A lemon peel twist or a small lime wedge can add a nice zest.
  • Prep for Groups: If you’re serving mint juleps at a party, prepare a larger quantity of simple syrup and have plenty of mint leaves and crushed ice ready to streamline the mixing process.

Nutrition Information

Calories: 287kcal (14%) Carbohydrates: 42g (14%) Protein: 0.2g Fat: 0.1g Saturated Fat: 0.01g Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.03g Sodium: 35mg (2%) Potassium: 65mg (2%) Fiber: 0.4g (2%) Sugar: 42g (47%) Vitamin A: 212IU (4%) Vitamin C: 2mg (2%) Calcium: 20mg (2%) Iron: 2mg (11%)

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4 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    This was such a quick and delicious drink that does not disappoint! Easy, refreshing and with the perfect amount of kick!

  2. 5 stars
    I can’t wait for the Kentucky Derby! I am saving this refreshing looking mint julep recipe for the occasion!

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