Mint juleps are one of those cocktails that evoke strong opinions—everyone you talk to will insist their way’s the best. Personal variations on recipes can be great, but this being Derby Day, we do have some simple do's and don'ts for enjoying the traditional Kentucky Derby cocktail.
- Use fresh mint. Accept no substitutes. Since mint grows well (in some cases, aggressively) in most regions, it should be easy to find.
- Use coarsely crushed ice. Many blenders will do the trick in a few seconds (drain any water and re-freeze crushed ice for about a half hour for best results), or a try a vintage ice-crusher.
- Use the right glassware. If you don’t have the customary stainless steel julep cups, use a highball glass.
- Use a high-quality bourbon; it will make a huge difference in the flavor.
- Use whole ice cubes. This bears repeating. Juleps are all about the crushed ice, so do it right!
- Muddle the mint beyond recognition. Gently bruise the mint to impart its fresh flavor.
- Use soda water; this is one of the easiest ways to ruin what may be intended to be a mint julep.
Like most recipes, mint juleps are all about the fine details. Here's an Imbibe-tested and approved recipe (isn't research fun?), adapted from Denise Gee’s book Southern Cocktails: Dixie Drinks, Party Potions and Classic Libations:
6–7 fresh mint leaves
1 Tbsp. simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water, heated to dissolve, then cooled to room temperature)
2 oz. bourbon
Tools: bar spoon
Glass: silver julep cup (or highball)
Garnish: mint sprig
Combine mint leaves, syrup and bourbon in a glass. Press the bar spoon into the mint to release its essence into the liquid. Fill the glass with ice. Gently press the spoon into the ice, shaking it to incorporate the mixture. Garnish.
We’d love to have bourbon historian Mike Veach, featured in our current issue weigh in, but we’re pretty sure he’s busy today. Enjoy, and feel free to chime in with your own julep tips!
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