Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | May 6, 2011

Mint Julep Time!

It’s a busy week at, where this post on the Mint Julep is now running. So many celebrations, so many related cocktails!

Spring brings two things for men with a taste for excitement: the Kentucky Derby and the Derby’s official cocktail, the Mint Julep. While the Fastest Two Minutes in Sports is certainly a cause for celebration, the Mint Julep should be enjoyed beyond a single day at the track for its approachable simplicity and refreshing taste.

Though records of the Mint Julep go back as far as the turn of the 19th century, the cocktail was first popularized in Washington, DC, thanks to Sen. Henry Clay of Kentucky, who brought the recipe to the Willard Hotel’s Round Robin Bar. Given the heat and humidity in DC, it’s no surprise that the Mint Julep remains almost as popular here today as it is at Churchill Downs on Derby Day. The bartenders at the Kentucky Derby will regularly serve more than 100,000 juleps.

Unfortunately, the Mint Julep isn’t the sort of cocktail that lends itself to being mass-produced and served without care. An overly sweet or overly strong Mint Julep loses its refreshing appeal. Here’s my preferred recipe, modified from a version by Derek Brown of the Columbia Room in DC, to be served with care and class to discerning fans of horse racing and otherwise sophisticated drinkers.

Mint Julep

  • 2.5 oz bourbon
  • 0.5 to 0.75 oz simple syrup*
  • 6 sprigs of fresh mint
  • Crushed ice

Serve in a Collins glass or silver cup.

Add mint and simple syrup to bottom of glass. Gently muddle the mint into the syrup, taking care to not tear the mint. Remove the mint from the syrup, and then fill half the glass with crushed ice. Add the bourbon and gently agitate the mix. Top the rest of the glass with crushed ice, packing the ice into a mound over the top of the glass. Add an additional 0.75 ounce of simple syrup if you desire. Garnish with a large sprig of mint and dust the mint & ice with fine powdered sugar.

* Simple syrup: Boil one cup of water. Add one cup of sugar, remove from heat, and stir until sugar has dissolved. Let cool before using.

A couple notes about the Mint Julep. Traditionally it is served in a silver or pewter cup, along with a metal straw. This allows the glass to collect an icy frost, but makes holding it hard. Julep straws solve the problem and can be found at most bar supply stores or even some kitchen supply stores.

There’s a lot of debate about whether a Mint Julep should have the mint actually in the glass, or if the mint should primarily be as a garnish, whose smell is imparted with each sip. What I like about this recipe is that it splits the difference by making mild mint simple syrup, accompanied by a hefty dose of mint on the nose. Regardless of your preferred recipe, the key here is plenty of finely crushed ice and plenty of fresh mint.


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