Cheers to the Mint Julep: Recipe and Reviews
As we searched for the perfect Mint Julep recipe in preparation for Derby Day, we discovered that there are quite possibly a million variations out there. What to do? Why, try a flight, of course! We chose four for our tasting: two variations on the classic (sugar v. simple syrup), one Champagne cocktail and a Julep with a Caribbean twist. To help narrow the field, we agreed on a few things:
- The recipes had to be simple.
- With one exception, we would stick to quality Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey as the base alcohol.
- Since neither of us had ever experienced a Mint Julep before, we wanted to try at least two variations of the classic – just sugar, water, mint and Bourbon.
- As fans of all things bubbly, we had to make a Champagne Julep.
The Old Forester Mint Julep Recipe
We kicked things off with the Old Forester Mint Julep Recipe featured on the official website of the Kentucky Derby. All the makings of a classic Mint Julep, this one features simple syrup, fresh mint, crushed ice and Bourbon.
The recipe calls for the mint to be added to the simple syrup once cooled and then placed in the refrigerator overnight. We took a shortcut and opted to bring equal parts sugar, water and loosely packed mint leaves to a boil then discarded them after cooking. We allowed the syrup to cool completely before making our juleps.
As indicated in the recipe, we mixed our juleps one at a time in silver julep cups (ours were stainless steel). We do have to confess that we used Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon instead of Old Forester for our rendition. In keeping with tradition, we also served ours with a short straw so that we could really take in the smell of mint.
Our Two Cents
The first sip is strong but smooth, and each swig goes down a little easier than the last. We both added a splash of cold water to take the edge off. Next time, we’ll just let them stand a few minutes before imbibing so that the ingredients have a little more time to come together. The cups also seemed to be frostier a few minutes after stirring. This wasn’t our favorite of the bunch, but we could see ourselves enjoying one (or two) of these on a porch somewhere on a hot summer’s day.
Southern Belles' Julep
We adapted the following recipe from a creation by Colonel Joe Nickell, an honest to goodness Kentucky Colonel. The original was featured in his book entitled The Kentucky Mint Julep. Another classic julep recipe, this variation eschews simple syrup in favor of plain ole’ water and granulated sugar.
- Fresh mint sprigs
- Granulated sugar
- Crushed Ice
First things first, we washed our mint and selected a couple of large, pretty sprigs to use as garnish. We dredged them in powdered sugar and set them aside while we made our cocktails. The sugared mint really added to the presentation. We can’t see ourselves ever making another Mint Julep without it.
To make the julep, we twisted up our mint leaves to release the oils and placed them in a mixing glass with water and cane sugar for muddling. Once well muddled, we allowed the mixture to stand a minute or two before discarding the mint. Next, we poured the mixture into a pre-chilled, clear old-fashioned glass filled almost to the brim with crushed ice and then followed with Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon, stirred well, and garnished with powdered mint sprigs and a short, decorative straw.
Our Two Cents
We both favor strong, sippable cocktails (think Sazerac or Vieux Carré) over sweet ones and this one fit the bill. We preferred the lighter taste and texture over the variations made with simple syrup. Served in a clear old-fashioned glass to showcase the caramel colored bourbon and garnished with a sprig of mint that has been dipped in powdered sugar, this drink is as beautiful in presentation as it is friendly to the palate. This one is a winner!
We came across many Champagne Juleps that didn’t contain any Bourbon, but decided to stick with a Bourbon base. There were many recipes from which to choose and a number of them almost identical. We started with our own version of the most basic recipe we found and then tweaked it to taste.
- 3 Fresh mint leaves and 1 sprig for garnish
- 1 1/2 oz. Bourbon (we opted for Buffalo Trace)
- 3-4 oz. Champagne
- 1 tsp sugar or Simple Syrup (Optional)
We just couldn’t resist the chance to pull out Ashlee’s rose-colored champagne glasses, so we twisted the mint sprigs a bit to release the oils and dropped them into our flutes. Next, we added Bourbon and muddled the mixture a bit with a cocktail stirrer. Last but not least, we topped with 3-4 ounces of Champagne (yep, we eyeballed it) and garnished with fresh mint.
Out Two Cents
We both had the same thought after the first couple of sips: Which is the star, the Champagne or the Bourbon? Like the two were in competition for top billing. We both like Brut Champagnes, so we tested our recipe with Baron Fuente Grand Reserve Brut. Perhaps we should have tried a sweeter, less expensive sparkling wine? In any case, it just wasn’t balanced. Since many Champagne Juleps also call for the addition of sugar, we added a little simple syrup to taste. It didn’t change our feeling on the cocktail. It was drinkable but not preferable to the other variations we tried.
A nod to the medicinal ties of whiskey and the julep, we just couldn’t resist making this one. An adaptation from a recipe we found on imbibemagazine.com, we changed it up out of necessity because we were short on fresh mint but still had some mint-infused simple syrup on hand. The original recipe also calls for Jamaican rum. We had Malibu.
- 1 1/2 oz. Cognac
- 1/2 oz. rye whiskey
- 1/2 tsp. Mint Simple Syrup
- Fresh mint sprigs
- Splash of Malibu rum
We added the syrup to the bottom of an Old-Fashioned glass and then filled with crushed ice to approximately 1/3 full. Next, we added the rye whiskey (we used Sazerac) and another layer of crushed ice to approximately 2/3 full. Then we mixed with a stirrer. Next came the Cognac, another layer of ice, and another round of stirring. We topped it off with a splash of Malibu rum and garnished with a sprig of mint.
Our Two Cents
Sweet and minty with a tropical flair. We’d love to give this recipe another try as written, but this was very drinkable. Perfect for patio weather.
Tips for Julep Making
Have a julep recipe you love? Tell us about it!