The official drink of the Kentucky Derby! This recipe is made with bourbon, muddled mint, and simple syrup, a Mint Julep is the perfect cocktail to sip as you watch the fastest two minutes in sports! Whether you are attending the Derby or throwing your own celebration at home, make this iconic Kentucky drink your beverage of choice!
When you think of a mint julep, the Kentucky Derby is probably the first thing to come to mind. Every year at the Kentucky Derby around 120,000 mint juleps are consumed! That’s a lot of bourbon! They even serve premium variations for as much as $1,000 for a single drink.
The drink was first made popular in 1938 when Churchill Downs began promoting them. Today, the drink has evolved into an iconic cocktail, with mint juleps served at Southern weddings and Kentucky Derby parties.
You will definitely want to add this to your menu if you are hosting a Kentucky Derby Party! For fantastic Derby Day appetizers, try my deviled eggs, Caprese salad, a charcuterie board, or pasta salad.
The Official Cocktail of the Kentucky Derby
The mint julep gets its name, obviously, from the mint used in the drink, and “julep”, which refers to a sweet drink.
They also use a special “julep” cup, which is silver in color but may be made from pewter, stainless steel, or silver-plated brass. These julep cups are used exclusively for mint juleps and other similar cocktails.
What is a mint julep?
A mint julep is a cocktail that combines two classic flavors: bourbon and mint. And lots of crushed ice! Skip the cubes for this cocktail!
It is perfect to make at home for people of all experience levels as it is simple enough for anyone to get right!
This drink can be found anywhere from summer bbq parties in backyards to high-end restaurants, to big summer events like the Kentucky Derby.
How to make a mint julep
Mint juleps are very simple, and consist of only four ingredients: fresh mint, sugar cubes (or simple syrup), bourbon, and crushed ice.
Traditionally mint juleps were made in julep cups, but you can also use a small glass or plastic if you are hosting a party!
To make a mint julep, all you have to do is muddle two sugar cubes with five mint leaves, add 2.5oz of bourbon, add ice, and stir! You can also garnish it with an extra sprig of mint.
Best Bourbons for Mint Juleps
Because bourbon makes up 95% of the drink, the higher quality you use, the better your mint julep will turn out.
Here are a few options that are widely available:
- Woodford Reserve
- Four Roses Single Barrel
- Maker’s Mark
- Angel’s Envy
- Elijah Craig
Mint Julep Ingredients
- 4 to 5 mint sprigs, leaves only
- 2 sugar cubes (or 1/2 ounce simple syrup)
- 2 1/2 ounces bourbon whiskey
- Mint sprig, garnish
Mint Julep Variations
Want to get creative? There are lots of playful variations of the mint julep, so don’t be afraid to experiment with flavors and ingredients. Mint simple syrup, ginger, and peach are common flavor variations.
For a twist, experiment with these ideas:
- A splash of sweet tea
- Muddled peaches, ginger, berries, or other soft fruits
- Make a “thin mint julep” by adding white creme de cacao, for the classic chocolate-and-mint combo.
- For a non-alcoholic Mint Julep, replace bourbon with ginger ale.
If bourbon isn’t your fancy, try using gin or brandy, but don’t tell a Kentuckian. 🙂
Kentucky Derby Mint Julep Recipe
- 4 to 5 mint sprigs (leaves only)
- 2 sugar cubes (or 1/2 ounce simple syrup)
- 2 ½ ounces bourbon whiskey
- Mint sprig (garnish)
- Place the mint leaves and sugar or simple syrup into a julep cup or double old-fashioned glass.
- Muddle well until the sugar is dissolved and you can smell the aroma of the mint leaves.
- Add the bourbon and crushed ice, and stir until the glass is frosty and the ingredients are mixed well.
- Garnish with mint and enjoy!
- Gently muddle the mint, no smashing necessary!
- The longer you stir the finished drink, the better! 30 seconds is the sweet spot.
- Make these ahead of time and keep refrigerated, but hold the ice until serving.
Related Recipes and Articles:
- Host a Derby Party Stress-Free!
- Here's a complete menu to get you started!
- Check out these tips if you are attending the Derby.
- For fantastic Derby Day appetizers, try my deviled eggs, caprese salad, a charcuterie board, or pasta salad.
FAQ: Common questions about the mint julep
The mint julep was introduced to the Kentucky Derby in 1938 and has been heavily promoted by Churchill Downs for many decades. Nowadays they are sold at the Kentucky Derby in commemorative julep glasses, and also served around the country at private Kentucky Derby parties.
To make a mint julep, muddle a few mint leaves with two sugar cubes. Add bourbon and ice, and stir it until it is well-combined. This drink is best made with crushed ice, but if you only have ice cubes you can muddle your ice as well to crush it to the correct size. Mint juleps are traditionally made in julep cups which are made from metal, but you can also make them in regular glasses, too.
Because bourbon makes up 95% of the drink, the higher quality you use, the better your mint julep will turn out. Angel’s Envy or Elijah Craig 23-year-old single barrel are great higher-end options, or for a budget-friendly bourbon under $50, you can’t beat Bulleit Rye.
There are plenty of ways to get creative with the mint julep. The two primary ways to do this are by substituting the bourbon for different alcohol (most often gin or brandy), or by introducing additional flavors. Ginger, rose, fruit (blackberry, strawberry, or peach), and sweet tea are popular additions. You can even make a “thin mint julep” by adding white creme de cacao, for the classic chocolate-and-mint combo.
Unfortunately, there is no great virgin (alcohol-free) version of the mint julep because bourbon is the primary flavor however, some people will swap the bourbon for ginger ale for a similarly refreshing summer drink.