This Saturday, ladies will don their biggest hats, gentlemen will put on their pastel-est shirts and everyone will lose money—all while drinking mint juleps. The Kentucky Derby might as well be called Mint Julep Day because, really, that’s the main event. A classic mint julep, like this one from PDT’s Jim Meehan, is made with muddled mint, simple syrup, bourbon and lots of crushed ice—served, of course, in a silver julep cup.
While that will always be the drink of choice at the Derby, bars and restaurants across the country are making alternative juleps with some unexpected extra ingredients. Here, six dark-horse juleps to bet on this Saturday.
Spicy: Mile High Julep at Decoy; New York City
At Ed Schoenfeld and Joe Ng’s brand-new cocktail den and Peking duck shrine, bartender Shawn Chen makes a spicy take on a classic julep with Tincup whiskey from Colorado (hence the cocktail’s name), Ancho Reyes chile liqueur, ginger syrup, fresh lemon juice and fresh mint. While the chile liqueur adds a nice smoky finish, most of the cocktail’s spice actually comes from the ginger.
Extra-Boozy: Oh Ma’Lort Julep at Drink.Well; Austin
After trying Bittermens Bäska Snaps (a version of the potent, wormwoody Malört), bartender Dennis Gobis immediately built a julep around it. He mixes it with overproof rye whiskey, Cognac, simple syrup, lemon juice and fresh mint. Gobis says it’s a hybrid of Prescription Julep (a mint julep made with whiskey and Cognac) and Kentucky Maid (a mint julep made with citrus), with a dash of wormwood for depth. Smart tip: Gobis overfills the julep cup with crushed ice then shapes it into a perfect cone with a julep strainer.
Extra-Minty: Run Four the Roses Julep at Maison Premiere; New York City
The Brooklyn absinthe house/oyster bar dedicates a section of its menu to juleps year-round, but on Derby Day, mint juleps are front and center. The Run Four the Roses is a boozy interpretation of the day itself. Made with Four Roses Yellow Label bourbon, fresh mint, crème de menthe and rose flower water (to represent the roses draped on the winning horse), the cocktail is floral and intensely minty.
Bacony: Bacon in the Sun Julep at Brookville; Charlottesville, VA
The pork-heavy, locally focused restaurant makes a meaty, smoky, rich julep with bacon-infused bourbon made in-house, simple syrup and fresh mint. The cocktail is shaken and strained over ice in a highball glass.
Nordic: Julep at Aquavit; New York City
Bar manager Sarah Ford’s complex riff on a mint julep uses both Roggen’s rum, a molasses-based rum made in New York’s Hudson Valley, and house-infused mint aquavit. She mixes the two spirits with caramelly demerara syrup and strains the drink into a julep cup, then fills it with crushed ice and garnishes it with fresh mint. To make the mint aquavit at home, just add 15 slapped mint leaves to a full bottle of vodka and let it steep for 24 hours at room temperature.
Fruity: Oak Mint Julep at Oak at Fourteenth; Boulder, CO
Owner and beverage director Bryan Dayton adds ultra-peachy Pêche de Vigne liqueur to his mint julep, which he makes with Knob Creek oak barrel bourbon. He complements the fruitiness of the cocktail by finishing the drink with a few dashes of house-made bitters.