Do you love a mint julep as much as I do? This classic cocktail always seems to have the right amount of minty sweetness, just enough fizz, and a strong bourbon flavor. It's a near-perfect sip on a hot porch in summertime.
The only trouble is, mixing individual juleps is cumbersome when you're hosting more than four guests. That's where mint juleps by the pitcher comes in.
Pitcher cocktails are a host's BFF, allowing guests to help themselves after the first welcoming pour. We've included a mint simple syrup here too, which, while not traditional for julep purists, adds a helpful make-ahead element for the busy home cook.
Mint Julep in a Pitcher Requires Smart Shortcuts
Kentuckians in particular have strong opinions about what should and should not go into a julep cup. Most would agree that a classic julep should start with mint muddled with a bit of sugar. Crushed ice is key, and the bourbon and soda water should be added last, with just a stir to mix.
That's all well and good, but when it comes to a make-ahead pitcher cocktail, we need to take a few shortcuts. The first is a mint simple syrup. This lets us bypass the muddling business and get right to the bourbon. Second is pre-mixing the simple syrup and the bourbon together right in the pitcher and chilling until it's time to add ice, fresh mint, and the soda water just before serving.
How to Make Mint Simple Syrup
Simple syrup is a one-to-one mix of sugar to water that dissolves more readily in a cocktail than granulated sugar. Some bartenders make a rich simple syrup of one part water to two parts sugar, but we're sticking with the classic ratio for our pitcher cocktail.
Infusing simple syrup with mint is easy, but there are a few mistakes to avoid for the best mint simple syrup.
- Don't chop or tear the mint leaves. Tightly pack a cup of whole, fresh mint leaves, and then add these to the finished, but still warm, simple syrup. Cut, torn, or muddled leaves will make the syrup taste grassy, rather than fresh.
- Don't boil the mint leaves. That's right — you can't throw all the syrup ingredients together and bring them to a boil. Keep the mint flavor fresh by putting the leaves into the syrup off the heat, covering, and infusing for one hour.
- Don't leave the mint leaves in the syrup too long. Not only will the mint turn black if left in the syrup too long, but it will also discolor it. Remove the mint leaves after an hour and before storing the syrup.
Learn more: How To Make Simple Syrup for Cocktails
Crushed Ice Is Best for Juleps
Ice is actually a key ingredient in a very good julep. It melts a bit as the drink sits, mellowing the bourbon and adding to its refreshing quality. Crushed ice chills the drink and then melts at just the right rate for sipping.
To crush ice, wrap a few cups of ice cubes in a clean kitchen towel — one with low pile like linen or cotton is best — and then beat with a mallet or rolling pin. The ice will shatter into uneven pieces, and that's a good thing for juleps. Move the crushed ice to a zip-top bag for long-term storage or an ice bucket for serving.
How to Serve This Pitcher Mint Julep
There are two ways to serve this pitcher mint julep. The first would be to fill a pitcher with whole ice cubes, the mint syrup, bourbon, and some fresh mint; pour this chilled mixture into individual glasses filled with crushed ice; and top with soda water. This is ideal if you need to quickly build a dozen glasses to bring out to the party, but it shouldn't sit with the ice cubes in it for more than an hour or the pitcher will become watered down.
You can also create a do-it-yourself julep station with a small carafe of simple syrup and pitchers of bourbon and soda water, from which guests can build their own juleps. This is ideal for long, leisurely affairs like a Kentucky Derby party.
How To Make Mint Juleps in a Pitcher
What You Need
1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
3 bunches fresh mint leaves, divided
30 ounces Kentucky bourbon (such as Buffalo Trace)
1 liter sparkling water or club soda, preferably chilled
Powdered sugar (optional)
Rolling pin or meat mallet
Julep cups or Old Fashioned glasses
- Make mint simple syrup: Bring the water and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Submerge 1 cup tightly packed mint leaves in the liquid. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and infuse for 1 hour. Strain the syrup through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean, lidded jar. Refrigerate if not using immediately.
- Muddle the mint and mix the cocktail: Drop 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves into the bottom of a pitcher. Muddle using a wooden spoon to release the mint's essential oils by pressing down and slightly twisting your utensil. The mint should appear bruised but not torn or blackened. Stir in the bourbon and mint simple syrup.
- Crush the ice: Wrap ice cubes in a clean tea towel. Pound with a rolling pin or meat mallet to crush the ice.
Serve: Scoop enough ice into individual julep cups or Old Fashioned glasses until they are very full. Pour in 3 ounces of the bourbon and mint syrup mixture. Top with a splash of sparkling water. Garnish with a sprig of mint and a dusting of powdered sugar, if desired.
- Make ahead: The bourbon and mint syrup mixture can be mixed up to 1 day in advance. Mint leaves remain green after muddling for 4 hours, so muddle just before guests arrive.
- Storage: Refrigerate mint simple syrup for up to 1 week. Remove muddled mint from the bourbon and mint syrup mixture and refrigerate for up to 3 days.