Learn the Proper Way to Make a Mint Julep for the Kentucky Derby

If you're ever enjoyed a sweet and smoky mint julep in a mason jar or rocks glass, then I hate to break it to you — you weren't drinking a proper mint julep.


The cocktail, made with fresh muddled mint, bourbon and simple syrup, has been the official drink of the Kentucky Derby since 1938. Since then, people all over the country have enjoyed their own variation at home while watching the famous horse race.

Unfortunately, even the nicest cocktail bars and restaurants can mess up a proper mint julep. The traditional way to serve the drink is in a pewter or silver cup (called a mint julep tin) filled with crushed ice, and topped with even more crushed ice. The metal tin stays frosted over from all of the ice, keeping the drink nice and cool. And the crushed ice melts faster, which actually makes the strong drink taste better.

To get a tutorial on how to make a proper mint julep, I headed over to Jbird Cocktails in New York City. Since I live in the neighborhood and am a frequent customer, I was familiar (and impressed!) with how they made and served their mint juleps. So to prepare for the Kentucky Derby, I had one of their skilled mixologists show me just how to make the delicious drink, and how to properly serve it.

 

Authentic Mint Julep Recipe | Celebrations.com

Whoops, I commited a cardinal sin of holding a mint julep ... I got fingerprints on the frosted cup!

 

If you're making this drink at home, homemade simple syrup works best. I always start out by making my own batch at home, and storing in a mason jar in the fridge for when I know I'm going to make cocktails. Don't forget to stock up on some fresh mint leaves, and pick out a nice cocktail bourbon, too. 

Obviously, you don't need a mint julep tin to enjoy this cocktail. It tastes just fine out of a tumbler or mason jar. But if you happen to have one, or you're looking for a proper way to serve the drink (maybe you have fancy friends you want to impress), be sure to stop by a local thrift store or antique shop. You can also pick up this lovely mint julep cup from Crate and Barrel for just $11.96.

Ingredients
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup
  • 2 ounces good cocktail bourbon (Jbird uses Four Roses)
  • 1 1/2 cup of crushed ice
  • Handful of mint + a few more leaves for garnish
  • Drinking straw
Directions

Store your mint julep tin in the freezer for a couple hours, until it gets nice and frosted. Take your cup our of the freezer, making sure to grab it by the top and bottom (you don't want to get finger prints all over the tin). 

Place a handful of mint leaves on the bottom of the cup, and gently bruise them with a muddler or the back of a spoon. Be careful not to muddle them too hard, otherwise they wlil break apart and you will be sipping chunks of mint. Get them nice and bruised to release the flavor from the leaves. 

Then grab your simple syrup, and pour into the julep tin. Then add your bourbon. Add about a cup of the crushed ice to the tin, and gently stir with a cocktail spoon.

After the cocktail is mixed up, top with the remaining crushed ice. Add some mint leaves for garnish. Add a straw, and enjoy! 

Makes: 1 cocktail

 

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