Classic Bourbon Mint Julep Cocktail

Mint julep

The Spruce / Claire Cohen

  • Total: 3 mins
  • Prep: 3 mins
  • Cook: 0 mins
  • Yield: 1 cocktail (1 serving)

The mint julep is an iconic bourbon cocktail that you definitely don't want to miss! Drinks that are this popular can sometimes seem difficult to make, but this recipe is actually incredibly easy. Anyone can pull off a great mint julep at home and you only need three ingredients!

If you are even remotely aware of the American horse racing scene, you know that the mint julep is the traditional drink of the Kentucky Derby. On the first Saturday of May, some 80,000 juleps are served at Churchill Downs in Louisville and countless more are enjoyed by fans watching the race throughout the country.

Traditionally, mint juleps are served in silver or pewter cups and held by the handle or rim in order for the cup to maintain optimum frost. They work just as well in any tall glass.

Beyond the bourbon, sugar, and mint, the only other requirement for this drink is crushed ice. Any other form of ice will not create the same effect, so take the time to create a nice mound of crushed ice before mixing this cocktail.

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Ingredients

  • 4 to 5 mint sprigs (leaves only)
  • 2 sugar cubes (or 1/2 ounce simple syrup)
  • 2 1/2 ounces bourbon whiskey
  • Garnish: mint sprig

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Place the mint leaves and sugar or simple syrup into a julep cup, collins glass, or double old-fashioned glass.

  3. Muddle well to dissolve the sugar and release the oil and aroma of the mint.

  4. Add the bourbon.

  5. Fill with crushed ice and stir well until the glass becomes frosty.

  6. Garnish with a mint sprig.

  7. Serve with a straw and enjoy!

Tips

  • Gently muddle your mint. You want to open up the veins of the mint leaves to release the essential oils, not tear the leaves to bits which will eventually get stuck in your teeth.
  • Crushed ice is key. Making crushed ice without a machine is another use for your muddler: Place ice cubes in a Lewis bag (cloth bag made specifically for this purpose) or wrapped in a towel and whack the heck out of it until your cubes become finely crushed ice. (This is a wonderful and safe stress reliever).​
  • Stir well. Once you have the drink built, take the time to stir it gently until the glass gets frosty. This should take at least 30 seconds, but the longer you do it, the better.
  • Pour your favorite bourbon. It is best to choose one of the higher-end brands for the simple fact that bourbon is the only liquid in the julep. Though it is sweetened and flavored with sugar and mint, the whiskey is primarily what you will taste.

Recipe Variations

The mint julep has been around for so long that it has been adapted countless times over the years. The technique for mixing it has been simplified and ingredients have been added or substituted to create new variations. While the original classic cocktail is fantastic, it's fun to explore all your options.

  • As an alternative to muddling the mint and sugar, you can also infuse sugar syrup with mint. This lets you skip right to pouring and stirring and is a good way to preserve mint that may be starting to go bad.
  • There are also many variations of the many mint julep-inspired recipes. You can enjoy a white peach julep or one that features ginger, for instance. Some take a completely different approach and swap the whiskey out for gin or brandy.
  • The taste of the mint julep is also captured fantastically in a frozen ice pop. It's perfect for the hot days of summer.

How Strong Is a Mint Julep?

The mint julep has a pleasant taste but it includes a long shot of bourbon and little else to knock its alcohol content down. If you make it with an 80 proof whiskey, it should weigh in somewhere around 28 percent ABV (56 proof). The drink will be even stronger with higher proof bourbons. It's always best to enjoy this one nice and slow.