How to Make a Classic Mint Julep

The mint julep is always one of the most-searched cocktails on Google, ranking in the top 10 as far back as the data goes (each of the past 123 months). But those searches spike dramatically each May:

Mint Julep trends

The reason, of course, is the Kentucky Derby, where the mint julep is the traditional cocktail. About 120,000 mint juleps will be served at Churchill Downs over the two days of the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby. But even if you aren’t a horse racing fan and have never set foot in Kentucky, it’s fun to watch the Derby on TV while serving mint juleps (big hats optional but encouraged).

I love mint juleps but never order them in bars because muddling mint is a hassle for bartenders (which is why they generally also hate making mojitos). But if you’re making them at home rather than behind a hectic bar that’s packed with impatient customers, muddling mint is kind of fun. You can’t possibly mess it up, yet it makes you feel like you’re hand-crafting a cocktail rather than just mixing one. So here’s your chance to be an amateur mixologist; this is how to make a classic mint julep.

Ingredients:

  • Leaves from 4-5 sprigs of fresh mint, plus another sprig for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon powdered sugar
  • 1 ½-2 ounces bourbon
  • Crushed ice

I like a lot of mint; use less if you don’t. And in lieu of powdered sugar, you can use ½ ounce of simple syrup. If you’re too lazy (as I am) to mix sugar and boiling water, you can pick up a bottle of simple syrup at the liquor store or supermarket for about $3.

Put the mint leaves and either the sugar (with a splash of bourbon or 2 tablespoons of water) or the simple syrup into your favorite Kentucky Derby tumbler and gently muddle with a wooden muddler. You just need to break up the mint and dissolve the sugar.

Now fill three-quarters of the tumbler with crushed ice and add the bourbon. I’m a big fan of Woodford Reserve, which also happens to be the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby and is used in its famous $1000 julep.

Stir well, garnish with a mint spring and — here’s the key — sip through a straw. Even after stirring, the sugar tends to stay on the bottom, so it tastes very different through a straw.

Saddle up for good times, and enjoy responsibly.

— Matt Rehm