Julep Cocktail in a glass

12 Julep Cocktails to Make in 2024

Julep cocktails, with their refreshing mint kick, have become a classic symbol of the Kentucky Derby. This article will guide you through the best recipes to create the perfect Julep, whether you’re cheering on the races or just enjoying a taste of Southern charm.

A julep is a category of cocktails that traditionally consists of four ingredients: mint leaf, a spirit base (often bourbon or another whiskey), sugar, and water. It’s a drink with a storied history in the Southern United States and is famously associated with the Kentucky Derby. Here’s a breakdown of the classic Mint Julep cocktail:

  • Mint Leaf: Fresh mint is used to mix into the drink and garnish. It provides a refreshing aroma and flavor.
  • Bourbon: This is the primary spirit in a Mint Julep. Bourbon is American whiskey distilled from corn and aged in oak barrels, contributing to the cocktail’s distinctive taste.
  • Sugar: A sweetener is necessary to balance the strength of the bourbon and the potency of the mint. Typically, a sugar syrup is used.
  • Water: A bit is mixed to dissolve the sugar and dilute the bourbon slightly, making the drink more palatable.

These ingredients are combined in a particular way to make the cocktail. The mint leaves are gently muddled to release their essential oils, then the spirit, sugar, and a splash of water are added. The drink is then filled with crushed ice and stirred until the outside of the glass frosts over. It’s traditionally served in a silver or pewter cup and garnished with a sprig of fresh mint.

There are variations of the Julep that use different spirits or additional flavors, but the Mint Julep with bourbon is the most iconic.

A shot from above of a Mint Julep cocktail in a traditional julep cup on a silver plate placed on wooden table and mint leaves around.

Kentucky Derby

Since 1938, the mint julep cocktail has been the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, tying it closely to the famous horse race. Every year, fans at Churchill Downs down around 120,000 mint juleps during the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby events. The refreshing mint in the drink is perfect for the warm May weather of the races. At the Derby, they serve the mint julep in special glasses or silver cups, making the drink a key part of the celebration and a sign of the warm Southern welcome.

Tips on How to Make Julep Cocktails

We found several factors that are crucial for achieving the perfect balance and flavor. An overview:

  1. Quality of Ingredients: Since there are so few ingredients in a julep, each must be high quality. Use fresh mint and good bourbon, as these are the dominant flavors.
  2. Proper Muddling: Muddling the mint is important to release the oils and aroma without tearing the leaves to avoid bitterness. Use a gentle press and twist motion rather than mashing.
  3. Type of Sugar: Some prefer granulated sugar for a grainier texture, while others opt for simple syrup for a smoother consistency. The key is to ensure the sugar is fully dissolved before adding the bourbon.
  4. Ice: Crushed ice is essential for a julep as it chills the drink quickly and dilutes it slightly, softening the hit of the alcohol and blending the flavors.
  5. Temperature: The drink should be served very cold, so a metal cup is traditionally used — it frosts over on the outside, keeping the drink well-chilled.
  6. Garnish: A generous sprig of mint is used for garnish. It should be slapped between the hands before garnishing to release the oils and enhance the scent with each sip.
  7. Proportions: The balance between the sweetness, the potency of the bourbon, and the herbal freshness of the mint should be carefully managed according to taste.

Julep Cups

Julep cups are more than just a traditional vessel for serving the Mint Julep; they play several important roles in the enjoyment of the cocktail:

  1. Temperature Control: Julep cups are typically made from metal, such as silver, pewter, or stainless steel, which conducts temperature efficiently. When the cup is filled with crushed ice, the metal chills quickly, keeping the drink cold throughout the sipping process. This is essential for a drink that is best enjoyed icy cold.
  2. Aesthetic and Experience: The presentation of a Mint Julep in a metal cup is iconic. As the cup frosts on the outside, it adds to the sensory experience, signaling the crisp, cool refreshment awaiting the drinker. This visual aspect is almost as important as the taste of the drink itself.
  3. Insulation: The frost that forms on the outside of the cup provides an insulating layer, helping to maintain the temperature inside the cup. This is why it’s recommended to hold the cup by the rim or base to keep the insulation intact.
  4. Tradition: Using a julep cup is steeped in Southern tradition and hospitality. Serving a Mint Julep in this type of cup connects the drinker to the history and culture from which the cocktail emerged.
  5. Durability and Heirloom Quality: Metal cups are durable and can last generations. They often become heirloom pieces, passed down through families, each with stories and memories of gatherings and celebrations.
  6. Versatility: While they are traditionally associated with the Mint Julep, these cups can be used for other cold drinks that benefit from the temperature-retaining qualities of metal.

A side shot of two chilled julep cup on a dark background.

Julep cup alternative

If you don’t have a traditional julep cup, a good alternative for serving a julep cocktail is a highball or Collins glass. These tall glasses are suitable because they have a similar shape and are also good at keeping drinks cool, which is essential for a julep. Additionally, they have enough room to accommodate the generous amount of crushed ice characteristic of a mint julep, and the long shape showcases the drink’s layered look.

A side shot of two Mint Julep cocktails on wooden coaster placed on a dark brown table.

12 Best Julep Cocktail Variations

The Mint Julep is the most famous of the julep family, but numerous variations exist on the classic recipe. Here are ten popular julep cocktails that offer a twist on the traditional:

Classic Mint Julep

A side shot of a Mint Julep cocktail in a julep cup on a black stone coaster surrounded by sugar cubes, a straw and mint leaves, placed on a white marmol table, with some cocktail tools behind in front of a white wall.

This cocktail combines the fresh kick of mint with the smooth bourbon flow, sweetened just right. It comes overpacked with crushed ice for a chilly treat.

Georgia Mint Julep

This version adds a splash of peach brandy or peach nectar to the classic Mint Julep, blending the strong taste of bourbon with the sweet touch of peaches.

Grapefruit Julep Cocktail

The Grapefruit Julep puts a citrusy spin on the traditional recipe, combining the sharpness of grapefruit with the sweetness of mint and the richness of bourbon.

Rye Whiskey Julep

Rye whiskey steps in, adding a peppery punch that makes the minty freshness stand out. It’s a lively twist on the traditional sip.

Brandy Julep

With brandy in the mix, this drink takes on a softer touch. The brandy’s sweetness hugs the mint, creating a velvety and refreshing drink.

Gin Julep

This cocktail shakes things up by bringing gin into the mix, where its botanical flavors tangle with the mint, offering a drink that’s as refreshing as a cool breeze through an herb garden.

Peach Julep

This sweet variation adds a dash of peach to the classic mix, lending a sun-kissed fruity flavor that complements the bourbon and mint, much like a warm Southern orchard in a glass.

Blackberry Julep

Here, juicy blackberries infuse their deep, sweet-tart essence with the mint, giving the traditional Julep a berry twist that’s as rich in taste as it is in color.

Old Fashioned Julep

This drink mashes up the bitters of an Old Fashioned with the minty coolness of a Julep, giving you a cocktail that’s both familiar and exciting, like a twist on an old tune.

Rum Julep

Trading bourbon for rum, this version sails into sweeter, tropical seas. It’s a minty, rum-soaked voyage that brings a bit of the Caribbean sun to your glass.

Cucumber Julep

Adding cucumber to the mix, this Julep feels like a dip in a cool pool. It’s ultra-refreshing, with a garden-fresh crispness that rejuvenates the classic cocktail.

Chocolate Mint Julep

This one’s a treat that marries the indulgence of chocolate with the snap of mint. It’s a dessert in a cup, as comforting as a warm blanket on a cool evening.

Best Bourbon Brands for Classic Julep Cocktails

Choosing the right bourbon is key to making a great Julep cocktail. We recommend following list of well-regarded bourbon brands. We found that their quality and flavor profile are suitable for enhancing the taste of a Julep:

  1. Woodford Reserve: Woodford Reserve offers a rich, full-bodied flavor with hints of dried fruit and spices, perfect for adding depth to your Julep.
  2. Buffalo Trace: This bourbon has a smooth, complex taste with notes of vanilla, toffee, and candied fruit, making it a great choice for a well-rounded Julep.
  3. Maker’s Mark: Known for its sweetness and notes of caramel and vanilla, Maker’s Mark brings a mellow smoothness to your cocktail.
  4. Four Roses Single Barrel: This one stands out with its fruity, spicy flavors and floral notes, adding an elegant twist to your Julep.
  5. Knob Creek: With a strong, rich flavor that includes sweet oak and a warm finish, Knob Creek can give your Julep a bold kick.
  6. Bulleit Bourbon: The high rye content in Bulleit Bourbon delivers a spicy edge with a smooth, clean finish, ideal for a more spirited Julep.
  7. Wild Turkey 101: Its high-proof and robust flavor, full of caramel and spice, makes Wild Turkey 101 a potent choice for a Julep with a kick.
  8. Elijah Craig Small Batch: Offering a balance of sweetness and oak with a hint of smoke, Elijah Craig Small Batch bourbon adds complexity to any Julep.
  9. Angel’s Envy: Finished in port wine barrels, Angel’s Envy has a unique, smooth taste with subtle hints of dried fruit and a sweet finish, lending a sophisticated profile to your cocktail.
  10. Old Forester: This bourbon is known for its rich flavor, balanced sweetness, and spice, providing a traditional Julep experience.

More Mint Cocktails

Let’s discover more mint cocktails, beyond the classic Julep cocktails. We will show you a bunch of different drinks that use mint to add a fresh and aromatic flavor, each with its special twist.

  • Mojito: A refreshing Cuban cocktail with white rum, fresh mint, lime juice, sugar, and soda water. (More Rum Drinks and White Rum Cocktails)
  • Mint Martini: A martini variation that infuses mint into the mix.
  • Southside: Similar to a Mojito but often made with gin, featuring mint, lemon or lime juice, simple syrup, and sometimes soda water. (More Gin Cocktails)
  • Mint Daiquiri: A variation on the classic daiquiri that includes fresh mint in addition to rum, lime juice, and simple syrup.
  • Hugo: An aperitif made with elderflower syrup, Prosecco, mint, and a splash of soda water. (More Spritz Coctails)
  • Pimm’s Cup: A British cocktail with Pimm’s No.1, lemonade or ginger ale, and a mix of fresh fruits and mint.
  • Mint Margarita: A fresh take on the traditional margarita, adding mint to the mix of tequila, lime juice, and orange liqueur. (More Tequila Cocktails)
  • Frozen Mint Lemonade: Common in the Middle East, this is a non-alcoholic blend of lemon juice, sugar, fresh mint, and ice.
  • Moroccan Mint Tea Cocktail: Inspired by Moroccan mint tea, this cocktail includes green tea, mint, and typically vodka or rum.
  • Smash: A category of cocktails that includes the Whiskey Smash, a cousin of the Mint Julep, made with bourbon, mint, lemon, and simple syrup. (More Bourbon Cocktails)

Also check out the the top list of Cocktails, according to Drinks World.

FAQs

  1. Can you make a Julep with other spirits besides bourbon? Yes, while bourbon is traditional, you can also use rum or brandy to make a Julep.
  2. What’s the best mint to use in Julep cocktails? Fresh spearmint is typically used for its bright, refreshing flavor.
  3. How important is the ice in a Julep cocktail? Crushed ice is essential in a Mint Julep as it quickly chills the drink and dilutes it slightly, balancing the flavors.
  4. Can you add fruit to a Julep cocktail? Yes, variations of the Julep often include fruit like peaches or berries for added flavor.
  5. Can you make a non-alcoholic version of a Julep cocktail? Absolutely! A non-alcoholic Julep, often called a ‘Mocktail Julep,’ can be made by replacing the bourbon with a non-alcoholic spirit or simply using a mix of mint, sugar, and crushed ice, topped with ginger ale or club soda.

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