There’s no faster way to cool down than with the ultimately refreshing and smooth-sipping mint julep – best enjoyed on back porches, balconies and by the pool.
Like a fresh breeze on a scorching day, the first sip of a mint julep cocktail comes with a sigh of relief. Holding a frosted tumbler of crushed ice is only half the reason for its cooling effect – the rest of its undeniable refreshment is owed to the heavy inclusion of mint both as a garnish and muddled into the drink itself. Knowing this – and the fact that it stars bourbon – it makes sense that the American South fell in love with the charismatic mint julep. So powerful was this love affair that, in the 1930s, it went on to become the official drink of the Kentucky Derby.
Ingredients (serves 1)
There may only be four primary ingredients in a mint julep (one of which is just crushed ice), but don’t let its simplicity put you off. This cocktail is certainly not a one-trick pony, especially when there are ways to elevate it. Swapping regular simple syrup for an infusion really ups those fresh, herbal notes. And this doesn’t just apply to mint either – thyme, rosemary, basil and bay leaves also work well in homemade syrups and cordials. If you don’t want to make your own syrup, keep a ready-made sugar syrup on hand for cocktails and infusions.
For the best tasting mint julep, choose a good quality bourbon. Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is robust and rich enough to make its presence known and finishes with a warmth that balances the cooling mint. In general, Kentucky bourbons work beautifully in a mint julep due to their sweetness, especially those that have a fruity nose with a hint of spice.
There are as many variations on the mint julep as there are horses in the Derby. Aside from it being a four-ingredient cocktail, a big part of its versatility is thanks to those same ingredients being a great foundation for additional flavours. It could be as simple as adding fresh berries to the party to offer up some fruity sweetness – strawberries and blackberries work especially well and give the julep a Bramble-like quality. Ginger also works beautifully with bourbon. You could add a ginger-infused simple syrup or a splash of ginger beer (or both) to make a ginger mint julep. There’s also the champagne julep which adds a splash of effervescence that downplays the sugar. And of course, this cocktail being the darling of the south, the Southern mint julep adds fresh lemon and a tea infusion to the mix.