Friday Cocktails: The Mint Julep

By Helen Rosner, Photo by André Baranowski

Forget the horses, forget the ladies in giant hats - nothing says Kentucky Derby like a mint julep. It's a perfectly balanced cocktail: Bourbon, mint, sugar, and gently melting ice, strong at first and (depending on how long it takes you to drink it) sweetly sippable by the bottom of the glass. But bourbon isn't the only one that can play this game: the julep is part of the family of cocktails known as smashes, where mint and crushed ice combine with any number of sweetening agents and spirits.

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The classic julep will never go out of style, but this Derby Day we're planning to shake up something different. We've concocted 7 variations on the original - mint-spiked tipples that make great use of cognac, moonshine, peaches, strawberries, ginger, and even Chartreuse - plus one ultimate recipe for the original; they're all perfect whether you're spending a sunny afternoon watching the ponies, or just sitting inside watching it on TV. While, of course, wearing a giant hat. See Gallery of 8 Derby Day Juleps »

RECIPE: The Ultimate Mint Julep
According to cocktail historian David Wondrich, mint juleps were originally made with cognac. Bourbon was probably adopted as a substitute by Southerners after the Civil War, when foreign products were hard to come by.


2 tbsp. superfine sugar 10 spearmint leaves, plus extra for garnish 1-2 tbsp. Simple Syrup ½ cup Kentucky bourbon

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1. Make the simple syrup by combining sugar and hot water (See the recipe). Alternately, you could use a store-bought variety.

2. Put sugar on a plate. Moisten the rim of a glass (if you have a silver julep cup, that's even better) with a damp towel. Press rim of glass into some of the sugar to coat.

3. Put leaves and simple syrup into glass. Crush leaves very gently with a pestle, just enough to bruise them. Fill to the brim with crushed ice, then pour in bourbon to cover ice. Stir one turn with a swizzle stick. Garnish with a leafy sprig of spearmint.