Three Mint Julep Recipes to Celebrate the Kentucky Derby   

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.

Classic Mint Julep Recipe
Classic Mint Julep Recipe

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.

Bold Mint Julep recipe
Bold Mint Julep recipe

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.

Red-Handed Bourbon Mint Julep. Photo courtesy of Proof and Cooper
Red-Handed Bourbon Mint Julep. Photo courtesy of Proof and Cooper

Ko Julep

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.)

Blend well, pour over full cup of crushed or shaved ice, garnish with lime wheel and fresh mint sprig

Ko syrup:

  • 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.

What are you drinking? 

The Right Drink for the Kentucky Derby, the Mint Julep

Mint Julep made with Basil Haydens

Churchill Downs is the most remarkable of all sports venues the first weekend in May during the running of the Kentucky Derby. There is nothing like seeing the horses line up in the paddock with their racing silks. It’s always obvious which horse wants to run. They toss heads and drag the trainer behind, heels dug into the mud in a vain attempt to hold back 1,500 pounds of rippling muscles. The diminutive jockeys join the horses in matching silks as the trumpets herald the coming of the race, looking like odd toys tethered to their massive equine masters. Ah the pageantry.

Then there are the ladies all decked out in summer fineries and lavish hats like they are headed to a polo match in the Hamptons. Hats so elaborate, they could have been worn to the Royal Wedding. It’s a wink and a nod to the ladies in London that get decked out for the Royal Ascot. Their perfume mixes with the perfume of the roses worn on lapels and wrists. An intoxicating mix of sight and scent.

The scene in the infield is altogether different; frat boys in flip flops yelling at girls to lift their tops, drunks passed out in the sodden mud and revelers wondering whether they are at Mardi Gras or the most prestigious horse race in the U.S. Drunken debauchery on parade wobbly dancing to My Old Kentucky Home.

Tying it all together with a bow of tradition dipped in nostalgia is the “official” drink of the Kentucky Derby, the Mint Julep. The mint julep has been served to the winning rider and enjoyed by fans for more than a century. No matter whether your horse shows, places, wins or dies on the track, you will feel like you got your money’s worth when you drink that julep. There is nothing more Kentucky than horse racing and bourbon.

Whether you’re at the track or at a watching party, you’ve just got to have a mint julep during the Kentucky Derby. If you’re not fortunate enough to be at the Downs for the eight race of the day, mix up a batch of julpes yourself. Here’s how.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups sugar
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • Several sprigs of fresh mint
  • Crushed ice
  • Liberal amounts of your preferred Kentucky Bourbon (Early Times Kentucky Whisky is the official Derby whisky)

Glass type: Silver Julep Cups or Old-fashioned Glass

Directions

  1. Mint extract: make mint extract by removing about 40 mint leaves from the stem, wash ‘em and toss ‘em in a bowl. Pour 3 ounces of bourbon over the leaves and let them soak for 15 minutes. Wring the mint out in a cloth or paper towel over the bowl of whisky. Dip the bundle again and repeat the process several times. Then set aside.
  2. 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 to cool. You can prepare it ahead of time and refrigerate it overnight.
  3. Mint syrup: Blend 1 cup of the simple syrup with mint extract. Add the 1 tablespoon of mint at a time to the syrup to get a soft mint aroma. Repeat this with the next cup of simple syrup.
  4. Mint julep: Make one julep at a time by filling a julep cup with crushed ice, adding one tablespoon mint syrup and three ounces of Kentucky Bourbon.  Stir briskly until the glass frosts. Top it off with more ice and stir again before serving. Pop in a spring of mint and then insert a straw that has been cut to 1-inch above the top of the cup so the nose is forced close to the mint when sipping the julep.
  5. Finish it with splash of water and a sprinkling of powdered sugar on top.
  6. Drink, repeat

Do you have a favorite julep recipe? If so share it with us so we can try it.

What are you drinking?