Derby Day isn’t complete without the “official” drink of the Kentucky Derby, the mint julep. It has been served to the winning rider and relished by fans for more than a century.
The first time I tasted a mint julep was in the infield at the Kentucky Derby in 1993. I was hooked. The tradition. The ceremony. The sweet bourbon and fresh mint melting away my cares. I made a point of going back to Churchill Downs several years in a row to collect the commemorative glasses that the juleps are served in.
While I won’t be in Louisville for the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby this Saturday, you can bet I’ll be sipping on a mint julep. I have my favorite recipe, but I decided to ask a couple experts to share their favorite recipes.
Mark Shilling, co-founder of Revolution Spirits, makers of Austin Reserve Gin, and Clay Inscoe, chef, mixologist, and distilling scientist at Treaty Oak Distilling both provided variations on the classic recipe. I kept their recipes in-tact, but swapped out their preferred bourbon or whiskey for an expression of Four Roses Bourbon.
Here are three great mint julep recipes for you to enjoy during the Kentucky Derby.
What Are You Drinking? Classic Mint Julep
- 3 ounces Four Roses Bourbon Yellow
- .5 ounce mint simple syrup
- Fresh mint sprigs
- Crushed ice
Mint simple syrup: prepare simple syrup by boiling 2 cup of granulated sugar in 2 cup of distilled water for 5 minutes. Stir it constantly to make sure it doesn’t burn. Set aside in a covered container to cool with a handful of fresh mint tossed in (6 to 8 sprigs). You can prepare it ahead of time and refrigerate it overnight.
Mint julep: Make each julep by filling a silver julep cup (or an old-fashioned glass if you don’t have the silver cup) with crushed ice, add the mint simple syrup and three ounces of Four Roses Bourbon. Stir like a demon until the glass frosts. Top it off with more ice and stir again before serving. Pop in a sprig of mint and serve. Drink, repeat.
A little about the whiskey: Four Roses Bourbon Yellow is a straight bourbon whiskey made by blending 10 of the distillery’s recipes. It’s smooth and easy going and a good choice for cocktails. 80 proof, $19.99.
Shilling’s Bold Mint Julep
Mark likes a really straight-forward julep just a hint of sweetness. He wants to taste the whiskey.
- 3 ounces Four Roses Single Barrel (Mark’s preference is Jack Daniels)
- .25 ounce mint simple syrup
- Fresh mint sprigs
- Crushed ice
Prepare the mint simple syrup the same as above. Start each julep by muddling 5 or 6 mint leaves in the bottom of a julep cup or an old-fashioned glass, fill it with crushed ice, add the dash of mint simple syrup and a healthy pour of Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon (3 ounces is a reference point). Stir with potency until the glass frosts. Top it off with more ice, stir again, garnish with a sprig of mint and serve.
A little about the whiskey: Four Roses Single Barrel has more swagger weighing in at 100 proof. It’s a good sipping whiskey that doesn’t need to be muddied up with cocktail fixins. $39.99.
Clay’s recipe is a little more involved, which is to be expected because this guy is a serious chef and a mad scientist in the distillery. His Ko Julep recipe is inspired by the islands of Thailand. (Ko means island in Thai.)
- 4 cups Four Roses Small Batch (Clay’s original recipe calls for Treaty Oak Barrel Reserve Rum or Red Handed Bourbon)
- 1.5 cups Ko julep syrup
Blend well, pour over full cup of crushed or shaved ice, garnish with lime wheel and fresh mint sprig
- 3 cups water
- 3 cups white sugar
Bring mix to a light simmer and make sure all sugar is fully dissolved. Then add the following ingredients to the hot simple syrup:
- 12 sprigs of fresh mint (roughly chopped, stem and all)
- 1 stalk lemongrass (roughly chopped)
- zest of 2 limes
- 50 grams fresh ginger, peeled and minced
- 12 sprigs of Thai basil (roughly chopped, stem and all)
Cover pot and let aromatics steep for 1 hour, strain syrup, chill and mix with spirit
A little about the whiskey: Four Roses Small Batch is made with a blend of four of the distillery’s bourbon recipes. It’s a mellow whiskey with spicy flavors along with sweet, fruity aromas and hints of sweet oak and caramel. It’s tasty on its own and a decent stand in for the excellent Red-Handed Bourbon. 90 proof, $29.99.
Disclosure: I was provided samples of all three bottles of Four Roses Bourbon at no cost.