Unless you’re a diehard fan of the Mint Julep, you probably reserve your annual helping of the cocktail for Derby Day when the races kick off at Kentucky’s Churchill Downs. A delightful amalgam of simple syrup, mint and bourbon, the drink has been the race’s official cocktail since 1938, and tens of thousands are imbibed at the event each year. Whether you make a Julep every day or only partake while donning an oversized hat or pastel-colored suit, your usual method could probably use a few updates.
To make sure you’re getting the most out of your Mint Juleps, we got the low-down from Doug Petry, the beverage director at Rye on Market and a partner at Galaxie in Louisville, Kentucky where he makes his fair share of Juleps around Derby Day. “A mint julep is an extremely simple cocktail to make at home, and paying attention to the details is how you can transform it into a great cocktail,” he says.
Here, Petry shares his five best tips on how to make your Mint Julep better.
DO Get Serious About Ice
Though Petry says a Lewis bag and mallet will do just fine, he prefers to bust out heavier equipment to crush ice. “I recommend using a food processor to crush the ice, as that setting on your freezer isn't going to crush the ice significantly enough,” he says. “Think snow-cone consistency.”
DO Muddle the Mint with Syrup
While some recommend pressing mint leaves along the sides of the glass to express oils, Petry sticks with a more traditional way of extracting the minty flavor: muddling. “Pull about five to six mint leaves and gently muddle them in the base of the glass with about a barspoon of simple syrup,” he says. This will ensure that you’re getting as much of the expressed mint oil as possible while you sip.
DON’T Dump the Bourbon in the Glass
Most recipes for Mint Juleps call for building the entire drink directly in the Julep mug, but Petry recommends chilling the bourbon and simple syrup in a mixing glass first. “Add cubed ice to a mixing glass and and stir the drink for roughly 10 seconds, then strain the cocktail into the glass filled with crushed ice,” he says. “Then, pack more ice onto the top of the cocktail.” Pre-chilling the drink will prevent the crushed ice from diluting the drink too fast, allowing you more time to sip and savor.
DO Use a Bourbon with Some Backbone
“Go with something high proof,” Petry says. “Anything bottled-in-bond will be a great choice for the drink, but there are also a number of other great [high-proof] whiskies that you can use.” Some of his favorites are Old Forester Signature, Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond and Four Roses Single Barrel, all of which come in at a hefty 100 proof.
DON’T Skimp on the Mint
One mint sprig might be a perfectly fine garnish for your Mojito, but that’s not nearly enough for a Mint Julep. “Use more mint than you think you should,” Petry says, adding that four to six mint sprigs should suffice. “You should basically be garnishing the cocktail with a mint canopy.” Petry says to place the straw directly next to the garnish so you get a proper burst of mint aroma with each sip.