Derby Day, Simplified: 8 Ways to Make a Better Mint Julep

Mixing up a mint julep for Derby Day? Get tips and tricks to take your classic mint julep from basic to best-ever.
By: Liz Gray
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Derby Day is upon us! Once you’ve found the perfect Derby hat or seersucker suit, it’s time to tackle another Churchill Downs staple: the Mint Julep.

Mint Juleps

Mint Juleps

A tasty treat for horse-racing aficionados or simply a gathering of friends, this Mint Julep is worthy of Kentucky gentry.

This classic Kentucky drink seems simple, but a few simple changes will take your julep from basic to best-ever. Here’s how to kick it up this year.

Find the Right Mint

Any type of spearmint will yield a delicious cocktail, but Churchill Downs officially sanctions the “Kentucky Colonel” variety in its Derby Day drinks. Check your local farmers’ market for live plants or herb bunches.

Flavor Up Your Simple Syrup

Making simple syrup is, in a word, simple. For a basic variety, combine equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan, then cook over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved completely. Add more flavor to the mix by adding chopped mint leaves before you heat. Once the sugar is dissolved, strain the mixture and refrigerate until ready to use.

Muddle, Muddle, Muddle

Muddling the mint in the bottom of the glass helps release the oils in the herb, yielding a more flavorful cocktail. No muddler in your kitchen? Use the handle of a wooden spoon or a chopstick.

Pick the Right Spirits

This is where personal preference comes in. Bourbons are typically made from rye or wheat, with the rye varieties having a spicier bite and the wheat varieties developing a smoother, sweeter finish. The sweeter (wheat) varieties, especially those on the younger side (read: aged 5 years or less) tend to work well for this type of drink. For tradition’s sake, it’s always a good idea to select a bourbon made in Kentucky for this cocktail.

Make Better Ice Cubes

Freeze distilled water for perfectly clear ice cubes that won’t affect the flavor of your cocktail as they melt. Crush the ice in the blender and fill your cups halfway with ice before stirring up your drinks.

Get the Right Serving Gear

Silver julep cups are most traditional — the best versions have a copper core to keep the drink frosty as you sip. No julep cups? Serve in a highball glass.

Make Juleps For a Crowd

To make this drink for a group, set out an ice bucket filled with crushed ice, a carafe full of mint simple syrup, fresh mint leaves, and the bourbon of your choice. Write out your mint julep recipe on a card or chalkboard to empower guests to be their own bartender.

Save Your Simple Syrup

Celebrating derby day solo? Keep your mint simple syrup fresh for the next spring cocktail. Try this tip from our friends over at DIY Network: Add a little vodka. It doesn’t affect the taste, and will help prolong its life in the fridge.

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