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The Kentucky Derby means mint juleps. Here are four variations.

Joffrey Adkins wears mint julep themed sunglasses during the 2018 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs. (Jamie Rhodes/USA Today Sports)
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Here’s a little secret about mint juleps: They are delicious just about year-round and not merely on the first Saturday in May, when the Kentucky Derby takes place and everyone is reminded of them. Why limit yourself to one gambling-intensive day on the calendar? Why not July, or Labor Day, or that one day in October that is freakishly hot before winter grabs the controls? Why not Thanksgiving?

Alas, Derby day is the day when everyone gets in the mood for a mint julep, and we’re here to help. We won’t be metaphorically putting peas in our guacamole here: At its essence, a mint julep is bourbon or rye, simple syrup, mint and ice.

And they don’t have to be pricey, either, despite the $1,000 juleps offered by Woodford Reserve. (Well, it’s the cup that costs $1,000, not the drink; the distiller offered 90 of the four-figure  sterling silver “Bluegrass cups” this year, made by a jeweler and featuring “elaborate designs of Kentucky scenes,” according to CNBC.  Proceeds benefit Jennifer Lawrence’s arts charity.)

The recipes that follow stick closely to the basic formula, with perhaps a few easily obtained ingredients added in to stir things up, ever so slightly. (If you’re feeling more adventurous, there are also Middle Eastern-inspired juleps, and gin juleps, and even tequila juleps.)



Our go-to recipe is adapted from “The 12 Bottle Bar,” a fun, informative cocktail-recipe book by David Solmonson and Lesley Jacobs Solmonson. To make simple syrup, pour one cup granulated sugar into one cup water and slowly heat on the stove, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.

— Handful of mint leaves
— 1 oz. simple syrup (2 tablespoons)
— 2 oz. bourbon or rye, your choice (1/4 cup or 4 tablespoons)
Put the mint in a cup, preferably one made out of silver or some other metal that’ll keep things nice and cold, and muddle it by pressing it gently against the sides and bottom of the cup for a few seconds (use that muddler your got as a wedding present or the handle of a wooden spoon). DO NOT MASH THE MINT. You just need to release the mint’s oils, which does not require a strenuous effort. Over-muddling will result in an overly bitter drink. Add the simple syrup. Fill the cup with crushed ice and add the bourbon. Stir gently for 30 seconds or so, until frost forms on the side of the drink. Add more ice if needed and garnish with another sprig of mint.


Washington lore states that Kentuckian and U.S. statesman Henry Clay introduced the mint julep to the nation’s capital in the early 19th century at the hotel where the Willard Intercontinental now stands. Here, cribbed from Washingtonian magazine in 2005, is Clay’s Kentucky-Style Mint Julep recipe as interpreted by Jim Hewes, famed bartender at the Willard’s Round Robin Bar.

— 2 oz. Maker’s Mark bourbon (or another premium Kentucky bourbon)
— 2 oz. San Pellegrino sparkling water
— 8-10 fresh mint leaves, plus a sprig of mint for garnish (Hewes uses red-stem mint)
— 2 cups crushed ice (dry, not slushy)
— 1 teaspoon granulated sugar plus a bit more to taste
— 1 thin strip lemon peel
— 1 julep cup (crystal or silver), frosted in the freezer
— 1 straw
Add one teaspoon of sugar, the mint leaves, one ounce bourbon, and one ounce sparkling water to the julep cup. Using the heel of a butter knife, muddle for about a minute until it forms a tea. Add a half cup of crushed ice and muddle some more. Add the rest of the ice, keeping it tightly packed. Pour in the rest of the bourbon and sparkling water. Garnish with a sprig of mint and top with the lemon peel and a dusting of sugar. Wedge the straw just behind the mint sprig so when you lean in for a sip, you get a peppery whiff.


Combining two of the more refreshing drinks known to man seems like a very good thing. This is taken from the Kentucky Derby’s official website:
— 1.5 oz. bourbon
— 1.5 oz. fresh lemon juice
— 1.5 oz. simple syrup
— 1.5 oz. water
— 8-10 mint leaves
Rub the inside of a Collins glass with mint leaves. Discard leaves. In a shaker tin, combine first four ingredients and shake with ice. Strain over fresh ice into prepared glass. Garnish with mint sprig.


According to Town & Country, this recipe comes from a fantastically named yet sadly closed bar called Pork Slope in Brooklyn.
— 5 oz. bourbon
— 3 oz. simple syrup
— Mint
Fill glass with ice and pour into blender. Muddle 5 to 6 mint leaves in a glass. Pour bourbon and simple syrup into glass. Shake well and add to blender. Blend well. Garnish with sprig of mint.

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