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