10 Unique Mint Juleps To Make For Kentucky Derby Day
A cool way to get into the Kentucky Derby Day spirit? Whip up a classic southern drink made for sipping during steamy afternoons.
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The bourbon-fueled mint julep is a refreshing cocktail that marks the arrival of the annual Kentucky Derby. Featuring zesty mint, crushed ice, powdered sugar, and the potent spirit, it’s traditional served in a silver or pewter mug to remain chilly during sweltering days. And it’s so thirst-quenching that the concoction may have been savored for centuries now.
“In ‘A Dictionary of the English Language 1755,’ Dr. Samuel Johnson defines ‘julap’ as an extemporaneous form of medicine, made of simple and compound water sweetened,” explains Fred Minnick, author of “Whiskey Women” and the bourbon authority of the Kentucky Derby Museum. “People were distilling everything back then to stay alive. The julep mixture likely made poorly made distillates taste better."
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“The origins of the mint julep are pretty vague, but some signs point to it being initially used for medicinal purposes or just as a ‘start to the day drink’ that Virginians would drink in the 19th century,” says Chef Eli Kirshtein, former contestant on Bravo’s “Top Chef” who’s now based at The Luminary in Atlanta.
These days, the popular drink reigns supreme as the official cocktail of the Kentucky Derby, which, according to reports, has been served at Churchill Downs since the first horse races in 1875, with an average of nearly 120,000 consumed each year.
“The mint julep is a drink claimed by the entire southern United States, but Kentucky popularized it in the 20th century,” adds cocktail expert Dale DeGroff, founder and president of the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans. “By the 20th century, the julep became associated with the Kentucky Derby. Nowadays, Americans everywhere associate the jewel of the Triple Crown races with the mint julep. It’s an easy and delicious cocktail to enjoy during the spring and summer.”
RECIPE: Mint Julep Ice Cream
Best of all? Anyone can prepare their very own mint julep from the comfort of home with a thirst-quenching twist.
In honor of Derby Day, check out 10 tantalizing takes on the mint julep from renowned mixologists across the country below:
Historic Mint Julep 1862
1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
2 Tbsps. water
3 sprigs fresh mint
1.3 oz. cognac
2 dashes high quality rum
Dissolve the sugar into the water in a tall glass or a silver chalice julep cup. Add the mint and press gently in the sugared water to extract the flavor. Remove the sprigs and set aside for the garnish. Add the cognac and then fill with powdered ice. Place the mint into the drink stem side down and dash with the rum. Set the drink aside for 5 minutes to frost.
(From “How to Mix Drinks” by Jerry Thomas, adapted by Cocktail Expert Dale DeGroff, Founder and President of the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans.)
Horse Power Julep
1 oz. spearmint tea
¾ oz. homemade mint syrup
1.5 Rye Bulleit (you can also use bourbon)
3 drops coriander bitters
In a mixing glass combine all ingredients. Add ice and stir until cold. Strain over crushed ice and garnish with mint. To make your own syrup, add equal parts hot water and granulated sugar. When sugar has dissolved, drop a mint bunch for 10-12 minutes and strain.
(La Isla Escondida at Mulberry Project in New York City.)
The Mile High Julep
1 ¾ oz. TINCUP American Whiskey
½ oz. Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur
½ oz. ginger syrup
¼ oz. fresh lemon juice
6-8 mint leaves
Combine all ingredients in a julep tin, including mint. Add crushed ice and churn until mixed thoroughly and the outside of the tin has frosted. Garnish with a large mint sprig and some sugar sprinkled over the mint and ice.
(Mixologist Shawn Chen at RedFarm’s Decoy in New York City.)
1 ¼ oz. Woodford Reserve Bourbon
½ oz. simple syrup
5 sprigs fresh mint
6 cubes fresh watermelon
Muddle simple syrup and watermelon in a mixing glass. Add mint and press lightly to release oils. Add bourbon and mix well with cracked ice. Strain over crushed ice. Garnish with watermelon and fresh mint.
(Stone Rose Lounge in New York City.)
Fig & Walnut Julep
2 oz. Four Roses Bourbon
.75 oz. St. Germain Elderflower Liquor
.5 oz. lime juice
.25 oz. Taylor Tawney Port
.25 oz. simple syrup
2 black figs (muddled)
3 mint leaves
2 slices of fig ¼ inch thick
1 mint sprig
PreparationUsing a Boston mixing glass or a 2 piece shaker, combine figs, port, simple syrup, and lime juice. Muddle into a nice paste. Add mint leaves, bourbon, and liquor. Add ice and hard shake vigorously for about 8-10 seconds so ingredients can infuse. Strain contents over ice in an old fashioned glass or rocks glass. Cut the fig in half and use as a garnish. Grate some walnut over the drink and add a mint sprig.
(Fig & Olive Restaurant in Newport Beach, California.)
2 oz. mezcal
8 orange mint leaves (if not available, you can also use a wedge of orange and muddle it with 8 regular mint leaves)
¾ oz. honey simple syrup
Muddle all ingredients together and pour over crushed ice. Garnish with extra mint leaves.
(Mixologist Mariko Amekodommo.)
Georgia Peach Julep
1.3 oz. Bulleit Bourbon
2/3 oz. peach brandy
1 tsp. granulated sugar
5-6 mint leaves
1 peach slice
Muddle mint leaves, sugar, and splash of water in a julep cup or rocks glass. Add bourbon, brandy, splash of water, and fill cup with crushed ice (10-20% above rim of cup, like a snow cone) and stir. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint and peach slice. Add a small drinking straw.
(Cocktail expert Dale DeGroff, founder and president of the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans.)
Blueberry Mint Julep Ice Pops
¼ cup fresh mint leaves
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
3 Tbsps. frozen limeade concentrate
¼ cup bourbon
½ cup blueberries
In a blender, combine the mint, water, sugar, and limeade concentrate. Cover and blend until evently combined and mint is blended into small pieces. Place blended mixture in a saucepan and bring to boiling, stirring to dissolve sugar completely. Remove from heat. Stir in the bourbon and whole blueberries until well combined. Pour mixture into ice pop molds and freeze overnight or until completely frozen. Serve.
(Celebrity caterer and founder of Elegant Affairs, Andrea Correale.)
1 sugar cube
3-4 fresh mint leaves
8 oz. champagne
Place one sugar cube at the bottom of a champagne flute. Tear 3-4 mint leaves and place in flute over the sugar cube. Pour champagne over mixture and allow sugar cube to dissolve.
(TART Restaurant in Los Angeles.)
Peche de Vigne Julep
2 oz. Knob Creek Oak Barrel Bourbon
½ oz. Peche de Vigne Fruit Liqueur
½ oz. simple syrup
Muddle mint leaves. Add bourbon, liqueur, and simple syrup. Pour over crushed ice and garnish with extra mint leaves.
(Owner/Beverage Director Bryan Dayton of OAK at Fourteenth in Boulder, Colorado. Photo courtesy of Justin Lee.)