The Best Juleps for Your Derby Party
More than 127,000 juleps are served at the Kentucky Derby each year. You can make at least one.
The mint julep is an absolute classic, and while it’s a simple drink, the devil is in the details. Use fresh mint, a great bourbon (we’re into Woodford Reserve, the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby), and don’t skimp on the ice. Never under-mint a julep; a julep without enough mint is just a cold glass of sweet bourbon. Which isn’t the world’s worst thing, in fairness. But a julep it is not.
While we’ve made juleps with rum, gin, and even Champagne in the past, this year staying true to tradition; we’re all about the bourbon. Whether you’re looking to keep the classic juleps coming at your watch party, try your hand at something a bit more experimental, or blend up the easiest faux-juleps ever, we’ve got you covered. Here are three great recipes.
Assembly Line Juleps
Looking to make four, six, or 10 juleps for your guests? It’s all about the advance prep. (And a little perspective: At the Kentucky Derby itself, more than 127,000 juleps are served each year. Don’t get nervous about 10. You can do it!) Julep cups are gorgeous, but don’t worry too much if you don’t have any (or if you don’t have enough for a crowd). A big rocks glass will work just fine.
To make crushed ice in advance — If your freezer has a crushed ice contraption, or if you’ve got a sexy cobbled ice machine, lucky you; put it to work. If not, you’ve got two options. A powerful blender like a Vitamix works great; give some ice a good whirl and it’ll be broken up in no time.
For something a little lower-tech, all you need is a clean kitchen towel and strong biceps. Fill the towel with ice, pulling the edges together to keep it in; get a heavy implement, like a muddler or mallet; and whack the ice ’til it’s crushed. (Feel free to assign this job to a friend.)
Instructions: For each drink, you’ll need two ounces of Woodford Reserve, half an ounce of simple syrup, and 15 mint leaves, plus three big, pretty sprigs for each cocktail garnish. Set out all your ingredients, and make sure you’ve already cleaned and picked the mint, including the garnish sprigs.
To the bottom of each cup, add the mint leaves. Then go down the line and add simple syrup, and gently press the mint in each glass. Add the bourbon to each cup; get out your crushed ice, and fill up each cup. Then go down the line with your garnish — each sprig tapped against your hand to release its aromatic oils — and, finally, add a straw. Six juleps really aren’t much harder to make than one.
Have you ever thought to yourself, that mint julep just isn’t minty enough? If so, we’ve got the drink for you. Branca Menta, from Fernet-Branca, is a powerful herbal liqueur that’s simply as minty as it gets. (So minty you’ll taste it on your breath hours later.) Adding half an ounce to a classic mint julep just supercharges the flavor.
Instructions: Add 20 mint leaves and 1/2 ounce of simple syrup to a julep cup (or rocks glass). Gently press (not smash) the mint with a muddler, or with the end of a wooden spoon. Add 2 ounces of Woodford Reserve and half an ounce of Branca Menta. Fill the glass with crushed ice, forming a mound on top. Garnish with three mint sprigs, tapped against your hand to release their aromatic oils, and a short straw or two.
Okay, we won’t lie — crushing ice can get a little tiresome unless you’ve got friends to help out. You know what’s a lot quicker? A blender. This frozen drink isn’t quite a julep in a technical sense. It is, however, the hands-down easiest way to serve something julep-y to a crowd.
Instructions (makes 4-6, scale up as needed): In a blender, combine 9 ounces Woodford Reserve, 2-1/4 ounces simple syrup, and 90 mint leaves (that’s 16 grams if you want to weigh it; or just a cup of loosely packed clean leaves). Fill the blender with six cups of ice, then blend until very slushy. Pour into glasses, and garnish with three mint sprigs, tapped against your hand to release their aromatic oils. Add a straw and serve.