Bourbon Mint Julep for the Kentucky Derby

They are, in fact, like the American ladies, irresistible.” – Frederick Marryat, on mint juleps

Once a year a free pass is given to non-Southerners which allows them to wear big hats and to sip minty-sweet bourbon drinks with abandon. This event is the Kentucky Derby, and while I know next to nothing about horse racing, I can give you some pointers for making the perfect mint julep. For fashion advice on large hats, I’d suggest Pinterest.

The mint julep is not only a culturally iconic and classic cocktail, but it is a dead simple cocktail to make. While technically it only has three ingredients, do not forget what I say – “Always use quality ice.”, which also means the appropriate ice. In my opinion, pebble ice is key to any julep, but you can also get great results with crushed ice. It is just harder to maintain size consistently. For the home cocktail enthusiast, I’d suggest buying some pebble ice, especially if you have Sonic Drive Ins in your area. This pebble or crushed ice will aid in frosting the glass, whether it’s silver or glass.

Woodford Reserve is the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby, but I chose to use E.H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel. Woodford even offers a $1,000 mint julep, which benefits the Wounded Warrior Equestrian Program. For the past 10 years they have varied their recipe slightly, and this year they used Woodford’s Double Oaked Bourbon, coconut palm sugar, chocolate mint, powdered sugar, and garnished with candied orange and lemon slices. It sounds delicious, and, considering the donation level (“cost”), at least you get to keep the commemorative cup.

At 100 proof, I think E.H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel (or any other high-proof bourbon) is an excellent choice to balance the sweetness and dilution of a mint julep. I also switched it up by using fresh peppermint instead of the standard spearmint. I had no particular reason, but would like to compare these side by side. I think the spearmint gives it a more aromatic and softer taste than the peppermint, but did enjoy the change.

Find the full recipe below, slip slowly, and ease into the Southern pace. If you choose to wear a big hat while doing so, be sure to tag your photo on Instagram with #HumbleGarnish.


Bourbon Mint Julep
Serves: 1
  • 3½ ounces bourbon
  • 1¼ ounce simple syrup
  • 8-12 mint leaves (spearmint or peppermint)
  1. Place fresh mint leaves in the bottom of a highball glass.
  2. Add a small portion of the simple syrup and muddle until leaves are well-torn. Add remaining simply syrup.
  3. Add half the bourbon and some pebble ice, then stir.
  4. Pack the glass to the top with pebble ice, pour the remaining bourbon over the ice, then top off one more time with ice until it is cresting the top of the glass.
  5. Garnish with a few sprigs of fresh mint and add a straw.

4 thoughts on “Bourbon Mint Julep for the Kentucky Derby

  1. It’s been (at least) 15 years since I first attempted to make a Mint Julep. I had a college friend that was from Tennessee who had attended the Kentucky Derby and he was all about them. He gave me a rough breakdown in a knowing tone (he was older) and off I went. I used Maker’s Mark and my first attempt was sugary swill. This is not a knock against Maker’s – at the time I had two questions: A) what is simple syrup?, B) how do I make it? Also, I knew nothing about muddling. Ha! In other words I had zero knowledge on mixing drinks. My second encounter with the Mint Julep was at a restaurant that was probably more interested in profit then making a proper drink, so at that point I was done. Until I saw Andrew’s post….
    Once again I set out to make a proper Mint Julep. In a word this experience was outstanding! I really appreciated Andrew’s thoughts on ice and high proof bourbon. I used Woodford Reserve because it is a quality bourbon that is available to me locally (small town). Unfortunately, Sonic let me down with the pebble ice (their ice machine must have been down) because it was pretty standard convenience store fare. I put the ice in a large cloth napkin and gave it a good beating and I think it worked out well. One note I might add: Don’t be shy with the mint. Use plenty and give it a good thrashing.
    I agree with Frederick Marryat: American ladies, indeed, are irresistible (I married one) and so is the Mint Julep.
    Thanks Andrew for the excellent post! Cheers!!

  2. mm

    Thanks Jacob! I’m glad you enjoyed the recipe and gave mint juleps another try. I think more people would enjoy cooking and cocktails if they realize how much room there is for substitutions and modifications of a recipe to suit their preferences or ingredient availability. After making this julep I had so much extra mint that I decided to switch things up and use brandy instead of bourbon for one. It was delicious.


  3. I live in Charleston, SC, so a mint julep is a staple in practically every restaurant. I will have to give this one a try! The blog looks great, man. Good for you for following after your passions and pursuing it with excellence.

    1. mm

      Thanks Rachel! Sorry I missed your comment. It was lost in a flood of spam comments. Likewise to you regarding pursuing passions.


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