3 Gorgeous Juleps for Your Derby-Watching Pleasure

Carey Jones
Even if horse racing isn’t your thing, the julep is a killer cocktail, one that’s well-worth learning how to make.

Few cocktails are as inextricably linked with an event as the mint julep is with the Kentucky Derby. But even if horse racing isn’t your thing, the julep is a killer cocktail, one that’s well-worth learning how to make (if only to impress folks at parties.) Mint, bourbon and tons of crushed ice—it could hardly be improved upon. 

Here’s the biggest mistake people make with juleps: They smash the hell out of that mint. What did the mint do to deserve that? Over-muddling makes mint bitter. Instead, you want to lightly massage the mint with a muddler to press out its oils, which contain all that flavor and aroma. 

Good crushed ice is key, too. There are a few ways to go about this: A purpose-built ice crusher, your freezer’s built-in ice crusher or a powerful blender. If you don’t have any of the above, don’t worry; just take a clean kitchen towel, fill it with ice and whack repeatedly with a hammer, mallet or meat tenderizer. Presto! Crushed ice.  

Here are three julep variations to try out, whether you’re planning a party, or you just like booze and crushed ice in one big glass.

The Classic

Carey Jones

We don’t need to explain the appeal of a great mint julep to you. One more piece of advice, though: Before you garnish with three big, beautiful sprigs of mint, lightly slap them against your hand. That’ll release their essential oils, which is what lets the drink smell so delightfully minty. 

Instructions: To a julep cup or rocks glass, add 10 mint leaves and 1/2 ounce of simple syrup. Gently—key word, gently—press the mint with a muddler or the end of a wooden spoon. (You’re not trying to smash up the mint, just massage it a little.) Add 2 ounces of bourbon. Pile crushed ice into the glass, and form it into a mound. Take three big mint sprigs, slap them against your hand to release the oils, and place atop the drink as a garnish. Grate a little fresh nutmeg on top. Stick a short straw into the glass and serve.

Rum Julep

Carey Jones

Back in the day, the American julep was often made with rum. These days, it’s almost exclusively bourbon, but why not give rum a chance? A good aged rum is a lovely choice for the simple drink, especially with a sugar-powdered mint garnish.

Instructions: To a julep cup or rocks glass, add 10 mint leaves and 1/2 ounce of demerara syrup (that’s Sugar in the Raw, dissolved 1:1 in hot water). Gently press the mint with a muddler or the end of a wooden spoon. Add 2 ounces of dark rum (we’re using Mount Gay Black Barrel) and a dash of Angostura bitters. Pile crushed ice into the glass and form it into a mound. Take three big mint sprigs, dust them lightly with powdered sugar and place atop the drink as a garnish. Add a curled-up orange twist for a little more visual appeal. Stick a short straw into the glass and serve.

Champagne-Gin Julep

Carey Jones

Not everyone loves, or can tolerate, a huge pour of brown liquor…especially in the middle of the afternoon. A wonderful alternative is a less bourbon-y, but no-less-fun julep of Champagne and gin. There’s still mint, of course, and plenty of it; it’s a nice pairing for gin’s botanicals. A huge pour of Champagne adds sparkle and lightens the whole thing up, but don’t be fooled—this is still a fully-loaded cocktail. 

Instructions: To a large glass (you need room for both ice and Champagne), add 20 mint leaves, 1/2 ounce of simple syrup, 1 ounce of gin (use a classic like Plymouth) and one dash of orange bitters. Gently press the mint with a muddler or the end of a wooden spoon. Pile crushed ice into the glass, leaving some room for the Champagne—then pour 5 ounces on top. Take three big mint sprigs, slap them against your hand to release the oils and place atop the drink as a garnish. Add a raspberry too, if you like. Stick a short straw into the glass and serve.

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