Classic Mint Julep

updated May 7, 2024
Mint Julep Recipe

A combination of bourbon, mint, sugar, and crushed ice, this is the perfect cocktail for hot summer days.

Serves1

Makes1 drink

Prep5 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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mint julep in a glass with mint on the bottom and top
Credit: Photo: Andrew Bui; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

The mint julep — a combination of bourbon, fresh mint, sugar, and ice — is a simple, classic cocktail. Traditionally served in a silver cup that gets beautifully frosty on the outside from copious amounts of crushed ice, it’s perfect for sipping on hot summer days (even if you’re not watching the Kentucky Derby).

Quick Overview

3 Tips for Making the Best Mint Julep

  1. Be gentle with the mint. Muddle mint leaves with the simple syrup gently so the leaves wilt, yet stay intact. Over-muddling brings out too much of the mint’s oils, pushing it into toothpaste territory and making it bitter. Plus, you don’t want to be sipping up tiny little fragments of mint.
  2. Stir with some ice. After the bourbon goes in, I like to fill the glass mostly full with ice and give it a quick stir before mounding more ice on top — this helps the flavors meld.
  3. Serve with a straw. Always serve a mint julep with a drinking straw. Without one, you’re trying to navigate sipping out of a cup packed with ice, which can be tricky. A straw also helps you sip from the bottom of the cocktail, where it’s most concentrated.

What Is a Mint Julep?

You may associate mint juleps with the Kentucky Derby and those cute silver cups, but it actually has a much longer history. Its origins lie with an Arabic drink called julab that’s made with rose petals and water (mint was introduced later). Mint juleps were first mentioned in the United States in the early 1800s; they became popular in the mid-1800s, and later became the official drink of the Kentucky Derby in 1983.

The Difference Between Mint Julep and Mint Mojito

While both cocktails contain mint, the similarities stop there. A mint mojito is a shaken Cuban drink made with white rum, mint, sugar, soda water, and lime. A mint julep is usually built right in a cocktail glass or silver julep cup and contains mint, simple syrup, and a spirit (nowadays bourbon).

Key Ingredients in a Mint Julep

You’ll need only four ingredients for making a mint julep, with each serving an important role.

  • Mint: Fresh mint, of course.
  • Simple syrup: Unlike granulated sugar that has to be dissolved, use a syrup made from equal parts water and sugar.
  • Bourbon: A standard-proof bourbon will work here, so pick your favorite brand (and feel free to use a higher-proof one!). 
  • Ice: Ice is super important. You need lots of crushed or pebbled ice to fill up the glass and mound over the top. This type of ice melts slowly and provides the right dilution that’s key to this cocktail.
Credit: Photo: Andrew Bui; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

Why Do Mint Juleps Have Crushed Ice?

Mint juleps were popular right around the time ice houses were built, making ice more readily available. Because ice was sold in big blocks at the time, bartenders chipped off chunks, placed them in canvas bags, and crushed them with mallets. Unlike cocktails with a big single cube of ice that melts more slowly, crushed ice melts quickly, aiding in diluting a strong drink like a mint julep, while also keeping everything icy-cold and refreshing. 

The Best Way to Crush Ice for Mint Juleps

The best tool for making crushed ice at home is a heavy-duty canvas bag called a Lewis bag and a wooden mallet. If you don’t have one, wrap some ice in a lint-free towel and smash with a hammer or meat mallet instead.

Mint Julep Recipe

A combination of bourbon, mint, sugar, and crushed ice, this is the perfect cocktail for hot summer days.

Prep time 5 minutes

Makes 1 drink

Serves 1

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 8

    fresh mint leaves

  • 1/2 ounce

    Simple Syrup

  • 2 ounces

    bourbon

  • Pebbled or crushed ice

  • 1

    fresh mint sprig, for garnish

Instructions

  1. Place 8 fresh mint leaves and 1/2 ounce simple syrup in a julep or old-fashioned glass. Gently muddle with a muddler or bar spoon until the mint is fragrant but the leaves are still whole, about 20 seconds. Add 2 ounces bourbon and stir to combine.

  2. Add pebbled or crushed ice until the glass is almost full and stir gently to combine. Mound more ice on top until it goes above the rim in a pyramid shape. Garnish with 1 fresh mint sprig and serve with a straw.