Celebrating Bourbon Cocktails: The Mint Julep

Creative cocktails are great, but sometimes, nothing beats a classic. In honor of National Bourbon Heritage Month, we’re taking a second look at some of the most canonical bourbon cocktails. None of these will win you Crazy Mixologist of the Year award, but that’s OK. Drinks become classics for a reason: they’re particularly delicious, and as a bonus, most are also easy to make. First, we talked about the Old Fashioned. Now, we’re moving on to the Mint Julep.

Mint Julep

image via Maker’s Mark

Mint Julep

Allegedly designed as an all-day drink, the Mint Julep is synonymous with the Kentucky Derby and hot, sticky summers in the South. It’s also a cocktail with some serious history. References to it date back to the mid-1780s, and it appears to have its roots in America. In 1803, a book was published in England that described drinking spirit flavored with mint in colonial Virginia, and Jerry Thomas’ Bar-Tenders Guide lists five different recipes for mint juleps, including the familiar whiskey julep as well as Cognac, brandy, gin, and sparkling wine versions.

One of the most iconic features of the julep is crushed ice, which is easy enough to make at home with a Lewis bag and mallet. (If you’re still assembling your bar kit, a clean pillowcase and a rolling pin will also do the trick). Fresh mint is also essential.

As far as bourbon goes, the sky’s the limit. If you’re planning to drink these all day, choose something with a slightly lower proof – Four Roses Small Batch, for example. If one drink is going to last you all day, aim higher: Booker’s should do the trick, or try the new Early Times bottled-in-bond expression. Here’s how to do it:

Recipe

  • 2.5 oz bourbon (or more! Some recipes call for as much as 8 ounces, yowza)
  • About 10-15 fresh mint leaves, plus a sprig for garnish
  • 1.5 teaspoons superfine sugar
  • Crushed ice

First, crush the ice. Put a good scoop into your Lewis Bag or pillowcase, put on your favorite Black Sabbath album, and give it several good wallops with your mallet or other implement. Enjoy the feeling of calm and wellbeing this produces.

Then, in a fancy julep cup or regular old Collins glass, gently muddle your mint leaves with the sugar. Don’t overdo it—you just want to release the oils, not pulverizing your leaves into bits that will clog your straw. Add the bourbon, stir to combine, and then add enough crushed ice to generously fill the glass generously. Stir to chill, garnish with the mint sprig (one early description of juleps say the mint sprigs were so long they “touched your ears”), and serve.

About the author

Margarett Waterbury

Margarett Waterbury is a food and drinks writer based in Portland, Oregon. She's the managing editor of The Whiskey Wash, the managing editor of Edible Portland, and a regular contributor to local and national publications.