Derby Delights: Classic Mint Juleps (and a Few Twists)
Mint juleps are history and tradition in a (traditionally pewter) glass. Few drinks evoke such a specific place and event. (Really, to us the Kentucky Derby would be just another horse race without the minty, refreshing cocktail.) In fact, mint juleps are so much a part of Derby tradition that it’s a wonder no horse has been named for the libation.
Though the mint julep is most associated with the Kentucky Derby, its history and origins actually go all the way back to the early 19th century. Even then it was a staple of Southern life and represented relaxation and leisure. (“It is a long time between drinks,” one Southern governor is reported to have said to another.)
So what makes an authentic mint julep? Mint leaves, of course, along with bourbon, simple syrup and ice. How those come together though is the subject of much variation.
In honor of Derby Day, we’re giving to you the official Derby mix of the mint julep, as well as a few more unconventional recipes that might have earned frowns from old Southern gentlemen but could no doubt inspire guests at your next summer party to lament (in a long drawl, naturally), “It is a long time between drinks.”
This “official” recipe calls for shaved or crushed ice and fresh sprigs of mint bruised in the bottom of the glass, as well as mint garnish to fill your nostrils with the scent as you sip. If you’re able to serve the cocktail in a pewter cup, you’ll really make the experience authentic.
Replacing the standard bourbon with clove-infused vodka gives this beverage a fragrant, exotic twist. We especially love the tasty combination of spicy cloves with the brightness of fresh spearmint.
Orange juice and zest give this julep a zing that is perfect for a Derby-day brunch. Based on personal preference, you can use either bourbon or vodka as the base of this sweet and citrusy cocktail.
Instead of bruising mint in each glass, this variation of the julep allows you to add mint to the simple syrup, which is perfect for advance preparation. We love this trick; it saves time and adds even more minty flavor to the drink.
Alcohol is optional in this creative variation on the classic julep. Kiwi and lime combine with mint and sugar to create a tangy, refreshing beverage. You can blend this drink as well to make a knockout smoothie.
Jumpin’ juleps! Explore all our mint julep recipes!