How to Make a Mint Julep, According to the Experts
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Here's our step-by-step guide on how to make a mint julep, along with expert insight from bartenders and one Southern beauty queen.
You can’t have the Kentucky Derby without mint juleps, of course! This classic bourbon cocktail is the very backbone of Southern entertaining. (Southern-style sweet tea is its refreshing runner-up.)
“When I think of a mint julep, I think of the Derby, but also a day on the porch with company,” says Lynn Maggio, who was Mrs. Alabama in 2012. “I’d say a mint julep is a refreshing, social comfort and the very scent of spring and summer in the South.” But thanks to their utter deliciousness, mint juleps are now being sipped across the United States.
For more on how to make a mint julep, check out our classic mint julep recipe. Paired with the step-by-step guide below, you’ll be impressing guests in no time!
Here’s everything you need to know about making an authentic Kentucky bourbon cake.
Buy the right bourbon
You’ll want to pick up bourbon whiskey, the American-pedigreed whiskey whose name evokes both Bourbon Street and Kentucky’s Bourbon County. Some of our go-to bourbons are Woodford Reserve, a presenting partner of the Kentucky Derby, and Maker’s Mark with its iconic red wax seal. If you didn’t already know, this is the difference between whiskey and bourbon.
Start with crushed ice
Juleps are meant to be made with and sipped from crushed ice—never cubed—our experts unanimously agree! “Otherwise, it’s just whiskey and mint in a glass,” according to Maurizio Chiovaro, a hospitality pro in New York.
Wake up the mint
“It’s not just about the drink,” says Maggio, of Mrs. Alabama fame. “The presentation is important in the South as well.” When you garnish the drink with fresh mint, “give the sprig a good slap,” adds Dustin Haarstad, the owner of Black Cat, a popular whiskey bar in Seattle. This might sound strange, but he says a gentle smack warms up the mint to bring out essential oils and promote minty aromatics with every sip.
How to Make a Mint Julep
For the mint syrup:
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups loosely packed chopped fresh mint
For each serving:
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup crushed ice
- 1/2 to 1 ounce bourbon
- Mint sprig
- Julep Cup: To make a proper mint julep, you definitely need a julep cup! While these cups are traditionally made of pewter, these stainless steel cups will keep your cocktail icy cold just as well.
- Bar Spoon: These long bar spoons will make digging through crushed ice to stir your cocktail much easier.
- Ice Bucket: Keep all that crushed ice from melting with a sturdy ice bucket. The included ice scoop also works a lot better than ice tongs.
- Reusable Straws: Ditch plastic straws and opt for these slick stainless steel straws instead.
Step 1: Make your simple syrup
Our classic mint julep levels up by calling for a homemade mint-infused simple syrup. To make it, combine sugar, water and chopped mint in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then cook until sugar is dissolved, stirring now and then. Remove from the heat and cool to room temp before moving on to the next step.
Step 2: Strain the syrup
Line a mesh strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth or a coffee filter. Strain the mint syrup and discard the mint. Cover and refrigerate the syrup for at least 2 hours or until chilled.
Step 3: Mix your juleps
For each serving, pour 2 ounces of the mint syrup and your bourbon into a julep cup. Fill the cup halfway with crushed ice and stir the cocktail until the outside of the cup has frosted. Fill the rest of the glass with crushed ice, then garnish with a sprig of fresh mint and straw. And they’re off!
Editor’s Tip: Don’t be afraid to adjust this julep recipe to your tastes. If the flavor of the base recipe is too sweet for you, reduce the mint syrup to 1/2 or 1/4 ounce. If you prefer a more spirit-forward cocktail, up the bourbon to 2 ounces. You can even make this julep a mocktail by replacing the bourbon with unsweetened iced tea.
The Derby is in early May, so you’ll want to have your mint julep skills polished and ready by then. Next, check out how to have the perfect Kentucky Derby watch party.