When it comes to a Mint Julep, nearly everything is straightforward—the mint, the sugar, the glassware, even the occasion is decided (though you can certainly drink Juleps all summer long and not just on the Kentucky Derby). With our bulletproof recipe, even the proportions are on lock. The only thing you really have to decide on is your choice of whiskey. Here, the six best bourbons (and one rye) that mix well with mint and do the classic cocktail proud.
Woodford Reserve isn’t just the official bourbon of the Derby—in 2018 it became the presenting sponsor. So you can thank Woodford for training the horses, convening the attendees, picking out the fancy hats—OK, maybe not quite, but you should honor the brand by sipping at least one Julep made with their flagship bottling. The whiskey is well rounded, playing equally to fans of grain, spice, corn, wood and citrus. But when balanced against mint, it’s the oaky notes that shine through with chocolate and baking spices. If you prefer to show off your love of Woodford, opt for the special edition commemorative bottling, which is the same whiskey in a shinier package.
Four Roses is a total crowd pleaser, so of course it works in one of the most approachable whiskey cocktails around. Heavy on the honey, Four Roses makes for an especially mellow Julep when added to the sweet minty concoction, perfect for a long lazy afternoon waiting for the big race. With fruity and floral notes overlapping the herbal tinge of mint, a Four Roses Julep is still surprisingly layered despite all its sweet comfort.
Big House certainly lives up to its name in a Mint Julep. Rich with maple and dark jammy fruit, the bourbon creates a deeper flavor in the often lightweight sipper. Interestingly, the whiskey’s mouth-watering caramel notes turn lighter when mixed with mint, transforming into an airy butterscotch-like confection of whiskey flavor. This is a grand Julep if there ever was one.
Jammy, fruity Angel’s Envy may not be the most obvious choice for a Mint Julep, but the port wine barrel-finished bourbon makes a shockingly complex version of the cocktail. The mint cuts the port’s influence a bit, revealing notes of raspberry and heavy doses of vanilla, while creme brulee billows on the finish. The mouthfeel is clean, with enough bite to keep you interested as you sip your Julep to the bottom of your tin cup.
Some bourbons can make a lip-smackingly sweet cocktail, but Redemption’s massively wheated expression (clocking in with 45 percent winter wheat and 51 percent corn to only 4 percent malted barley) comes loaded with flavors of savory spices, smoked meats, pepper and fresh mint. It makes for an unusual Julep for sure, but also a nice counterpoint to Four Roses above. Wheat comes through on a thick, mouth-coating wave, with tingling notes of mint and lemon zest above the full wheaty flavor.
We love high-rye Wild Turkey 101 in a number of classic bourbon drinks for the punch it provides a sweet cocktail. This peppery Julep explodes from the pile of crushed ice with nuts and spices like clove and cinnamon, which meld perfectly with the mint. The high proof on the 101 also counteracts the melty ice, letting Julep drinkers keep on pace with their strong lowball drinking pals. This is not the lazy afternoon sipper you know, but it is a cocktail you’ll love.
Throwing rye into a Julep may seem heretical as many expressions of the spicy, peppery spirit easily overwhelm the minty flavor of the cocktail. But the Canadian John Drew is surprisingly mellow for a rye, immediately creamy, nutty and a touch coconutty when sipped straight. In a Mint Julep, the rye expresses wonderful chocolate notes that make the entire drink taste something like mint chocolate chip ice cream, or even an old timey, dry version of a Grasshopper. More salt than pepper comes through in the drink, highlighting the sweet flavors, while a mentholy tinge rounds out the profile and leaves a mouth-tingling impression.