It’s Derby season, which means it’s time to mix up this Mint Julep recipe! This classic cocktail is slightly sweet, naturally minty and so refreshing.
It takes just a minute to whip up these delicious mint cocktails. So grab your fancy hats, place your bets and stick your pinkies out, cause we’re making Derby Day at home!
This mint julep recipe is not the bourbon drink that you’re used to. When most people think bourbon, we think classic cocktails like the Manhattan or Old Fashioned. We think fireplaces and cozy scenes, or dimly lit restaurants and bars.
But this bourbon drink turns the tables! It’s cool, fresh and crisp. The perfect sipper for those hot summer days that are on their way.
And with our mint plant growing in our garden like a weed, we’ll be mixing up these easy cocktails all summer long!
What’s in a Mint Julep?
A classic Mint Julep is super simple – bourbon, muddled mint, sugar or simple syrup and lots of ice. Here’s what you’ll need to mix up the official drink of the Kentucky Derby:
- Bourbon whiskey. Remember, all bourbons are whiskeys, but not all whiskeys are bourbon. I always go for a moderately-priced bourbon when I’m mixing it with other ingredients. A Kentucky bourbon like Woodford Reserve goes with our Derby theme perfectly.
- Fresh mint leaves
- Bitters. This is a neutral liquor infused with herbs, spices and natural botanicals. Bitters add an amazing complexity to cocktails and are especially awesome with bourbon. Bitters aren’t a traditional ingredient in mint juleps, but trust me, you’ll love it! Since we only use a dash or two, bitters don’t contribute anything to the overall alcohol content of this drink.
How to make a Mint Julep
Making the Mint Simple Syrup
First, we’re making mint simple syrup. It gives the cocktail a flavor similar to sweet tea. So very Southern.
Infusing fresh mint and other herbs into your own simple syrup is very straightforward – equal parts herbs, water and sugar. Boil them together in a saucepan and let them simmer for a while to let the flavors merge. The longer you let the syrup sit, the deeper the herby flavors will be.
The nice part about using this mint simple syrup means that you won’t have to muddle the mint at the bottom of the glass. The minty flavors are already in there!
It will keep forever in the refrigerator and it’s a great way to use up your mint if it’s growing like crazy in your garden.
Making the Cocktail
Once the syrup is done, the rest is easy. Just pour the bourbon and mint simple syrup into a cocktail glass and stir them together gently. No cocktail shaker required! Pack the glass with crushed ice, sprinkle a few drops of bitters on top, and get sippin’.
Double down on that fresh mint flavor by garnishing with more fresh mint, so you get a little whiff of it every time you take a sip. It’s so refreshing!
How to serve a classic Mint Julep
It’s important to keep this bourbon cocktail as cold as possible. Most traditional Mint Juleps are served in insulated copper or pewter cups, like the kind you’d use for Moscow mules. Mint Julep cups are designed to keep things icy, and they’re great to have for all kinds of summer drinks.
The best part about making this mint julep recipe at home is that you can use the right drinkware. At Churchill Downs, you’re getting a plastic cup whether you like it or not.
If you don’t have insulated mugs, just be sure to fill your glass up to the brim with ice. Using crushed ice makes it extra festive.
Mint Julep vs Mojito
A mint julep and a mojito are similar because of their use of fresh mint and simple sugar syrup. They are both super refreshing summer sippers, and they are both typically garnished with a fresh mint sprig.
The main difference between these two minty cocktails is that a mint julep is made with bourbon and a mojito is made with white rum. A mojito also has the citrus component of lime juice, which a mint julep does not have.
Another difference is that the mojito includes a bubbly component like soda water, while the mint julep does not.
Classic mojito recipes start with crushing fresh mint in a highball glass with a cocktail muddler. Then, you pour in the rum, club soda and lime juice. In addition to the fresh mint, the mojito can be garnished with a lime wedge.
The mojito is a delicious cocktail if you are a rum drinker. I am more of a bourbon drinker, which is why I’m team mint julep. But when you make the mint simple syrup for this cocktail recipe, you’ll have plenty to use in a mojito, so try them both out and decide for yourself!
When you make this signature drink of the Kentucky Derby, I’d love to hear about it! Drop a rating or leave a comment below. Cheers!
For more summer cocktail recipes, try these:
For more bourbon-based cocktail recipes, try these:
Mint Julep Recipe
- 2 1.5 oz. shots bourbon
- 1 1.5 oz. shot Mint Simple Syrup recipe below
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
Mint Simple Syrup
- 1 cup fresh mint leaves firmly packed
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- Make the mint simple syrup: stir together the mint leaves, sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Allow the syrup to cool to room temperature. Strain out the mint leaves and pour into an airtight jar or container. Store in the refrigerator.
- Pour the bourbon and mint simple syrup into a silver cup or other insulated mug and stir gently. Pack the glass with ice and top with a few dashes of bitters. Garnish with extra sprigs of mint.