Skip to main content

Mint Julep: Recipe, 4 Variations & 3 Similar Cocktails

The Mint Julep is a well-loved cocktail, associated with the American South but popular around the world. If you’re wanting to learn more about this amazing drink, you’re in the right place. Here you’ll learn everything you need to know about the fancy drink.

The Mint Julep is a really special cocktail, and unique in its crystalline texture and blend of cooling flavors. If you’ve heard of the Mint Julep before, it may well have been in association with the Kentucky Derby.

It’s a long-standing tradition for juleps to be served during the derby, and for good reason: they’re delicious, and refreshing, perfect for a toasty race day.

What Mint Julep Is

What Mint Julep Is

So what is a Mint Julep anyway? Well, in short, it’s a cocktail made with shaved ice, bourbon, and mint, along with some other ingredients. It’s known for being sweet, super cold, and great for a hot day.

If you really want to understand this cocktail, it’s important to learn more about its history, ingredients, and perfect recipe.

Brief History / Origin

Brief History / Origin

The Mint Julep is a relatively old cocktail, with a rich history stretching back to the 1700s. Originally, Mint Juleps were only weakly alcoholic and were a medicinal tincture used to treat a number of ailments, but primarily an upset stomach.

However, by the late eighteenth century, most Mint Juleps contained whiskey along with mint and water.

They were exceedingly popular in the Southern United States even this early, with mentions of how much Virginians enjoyed them reaching as far as London by 1803.

Around this time, bars, taverns, and hotels began to have ice houses, and ice became a more readily available ingredient in cocktails and other drinks.

By the mid 1800’s the Mint Julep as we know it today was a staple across the U.S. and beginning to be known around the world.

Still, the Mint Julep remains a drink that’s most beloved in the South, particularly in Virginia and Kentucky.

The cocktail has been promoted at the Kentucky Derby since 1938, only a year after Churchill Downs (the racetrack) was officially named. Today, over 100,000 Mint Juleps are sold each race period.



To make a Mint Julep, you need 60 ml of bourbon whiskey, four mint sprigs, a sweetener, and two teaspoons of water. What you use to sweeten your Mint Julep is a matter of some contention.

Early julep recipes used a sugar cube that was muddled with the mint and water in preparation for the cocktail. However, many modern recipes opt for simple syrup, likely as a way to ease the preparation of the drink.

The official International Bartenders Association (IBA) recipe calls for a teaspoon of powdered sugar, which makes the mixture more syrupy, viscous, and opaque.

In our recipe, we’ve opted to use a sugar cube for maximum authenticity. However, feel free to sub for syrup or powdered sugar if you wish.

It’s also important to use fresh, cool, still water, and clean ice. The ice in a Mint Julep cna be either crushed or shaved, but it’s essential that it is small enough for pieces to melt easily in your mouth. The mint you use should be fresh, and young, small sprigs if at all possible.

Best Bourbon Whiskey Brands for Mint Julep

Best Bourbon Whiskey Brands for Mint Julep

Of course, the most important ingredient in a Mint Julep is the bourbon. From Woodford Reserve to Buffalo Trace, they all bring something different to the cocktail. Here are our go-to bourbon brands for perfecting this drink:

1. Woodford Reserve

Woodford Reserve is premium small-batch Kentucky bourbon whisky.

It’s also the whiskey used in the Kentucky Derby’s $1000 dollar Mint Julep, which – along with the Woodford Reserve – is made from ice from the Bavarian Alps, mint grown in Ireland, and Australian sugar.

This shows that Woodford Reserve really is among the world’s best. The flavor profile of this bourbon is complex, with over 200 tasting notes including woods, grains, spices, fruits, and flowers.

2. Maker’s Mark

You can recognize this iconic whiskey brand by the dripping red wax seal on each of the bottles. Maker’s Mark is small-batch and aged to taste, as well as being bottled and sealed by hand.

It uses soft red wheat rather than rye, which gives it a softer, smoother taste than many of its competitors, and has notes of oak, vanilla, and rich dried fruit.

3. Buffalo Trace

Buffalo Trace is also a small batch Kentucky bourbon whiskey. However, it is slightly sweeter and has the essence of butterscotch, brown sugar, mint, molasses, and aniseed.

This whiskey is so popular that there’s even a limit on how much you’re allowed to purchase to ensure everyone gets a fair chance at a bottle.

Recipe – How to Make a Mint Julep

Recipe – How to Make a Mint Julep

Now you’ve selected your ingredients, it’s finally time to make the Mint Julep. Here’s our go-to recipe for this cocktail:

  1. Prepare: Pluck the leaves off of your mint leaves, and measure out your liquid ingredients
  2. Muddle: Place the mint leaves, sugar, and water into your glass. Muddle your ingredients well until the sugar is almost dissolved and the mint leaves are broken up releasing their oil and aroma
  3. Add: Pour in your bourbon, and then add in crushed or shaved ice. Make sure to fill to almost the brim, but not overflowing
  4. Stir: Gently stir to combine all of the ingredients and get liquid and color to the top of the glass. You will need to mix until the glass gets frosty, which will take at least thirty seconds, though longer is better
  5. Enjoy: Garnish with a sprig of mint, and optionally a dash of aromatic bitters, and serve immediately.

Time & Occasions for Drinking a Mint Julep

Time & Occasions for Drinking a Mint Julep

The most iconic time to enjoy a Mint Julep is of course at the Kentucky Derby. Every year, thousands of people enjoy the cocktail at Churchill Downs and even collect signature cups, have cocktail competitions, and more.

Even if you’re not lucky enough to be there in person, this cocktail is the perfect choice for a race day event or watch party.

However, you definitely don’t have to restrict yourself to only one day a year to enjoy the Mint Julep. This cocktail is essentially designed to be enjoyed in hot weather.

The crushed ice and mint are the perfect cooling combination, and the use of essentially just water as a mixer in this drink makes it more hydrating than many other alcoholic options.

Even if you can’t have the iconic experience of homemade Mint Juleps on the porch swing after a long summer’s day, you can bring that vibe to any event where you make this cocktail. They’re perfect for barbecues, any game day, and even by the pool.

Perfect Pairings

Perfect Pairings

If you’re looking for food to pair with a Mint Julep, your best bet is to keep it Southern. For example, if you’re looking for appetizers try deviled eggs with bacon, fried black-eyed peas, or cheese fondue.

If you want to keep it light, boiled, or in the shell, peanuts are also a classic. For heartier fare, try your hand at classics such as brisket, grilled cheese sandwiches, or fried catfish or chicken. And for dessert, you can never go wrong with pecan pie or even chocolate mud pie.

However, the refreshing, mild flavor of Mint Juleps makes them a pretty versatile pairing option. They can also be enjoyed with Tex-Mex options, like bean burritos, tacos, or nachos. They also work well as a palette cleanser in between courses due to the mint.

Best Glass to Serve a Mint Julep

Best Glass to Serve a Mint Julep

Traditionally, Mint Juleps are served in a silver (or pewter) cup with a slightly raised bottom and brim.

This allows frost to form on the outside of the glass, while also giving you a place to hold the cup that keeps your hand from warming the drink (as well as keeping your hand from getting too cold.)

However, you don’t need to keep things strictly authentic if you don’t want to. In fact, even at the Kentucky Derby, most Mint Juleps are now sold in glass or plastic collectible cups.

These days, it’s common to serve a Mint Julep in a tall old-fashioned glass, or even a Collins or highball glass.

Variations of Mint Julep

Variations of Mint Julep

If you loved the Mint Julep, but wish it could be just a little bit different, why not try out a slight variation of the recipe?

Feel free to experiment with these cocktail recipes, and add in all of your favorite components and flavors. If you’re looking for some ideas, here are our go-to twists on this refreshing beverage.

Thin Mint Julep

Thin Mint Julep

Is there any better time of year than Girl Scout cookie season? If you adore Thin Mints, you definitely need to check out this cocktail. It’s all the boozy goodness of a Mint Julep with the chocolatey sweetness of a classic Thin Mint cookie.

To make it, gently muddle eight to ten mint leaves and a quarter of an ounce of simple syrup in a Julep cup until the mint has released its oils and fragrance.

Then, add in one and a half ounces of Kentucky bourbon whiskey of your choice, and a half ounce of white creme de cacao. It’s this second ingredient that will give your cocktail its creamy, velvety sweetness and chocolate flavor.

Next, pack the glass half-filled with crushed ice and stir until frost forms on the outside of the glass and the liquid is thoroughly distributed. Finally, top with more crushed ice to form an attractive peak, and garnish with a few sprigs of fresh mint and a thin mint (or thin mint crumbles.)

Shrub Julep

Shrub Julep

The shrub julep has a unique rich, earthy flavor as well as a gorgeous and decadent rich royal purple color. If you want your Mint Julep with a little more complexity and oomph, this is definitely an excellent cocktail choice for you.

The name “shrub” comes from the traditional name for a sweetened, easy-to-drink vinegar. This recipe uses maple beet shrub – made from maple syrup, beets, and ginger – to add a layer of spiciness.

It’s made similarly to the original Mint Julep. First, you muddle your mint, then you add in two ounces of bourbon and one ounce of the maple beet shrub (plus a little crushed ice).

Stir briskly until the ice is partially melted and the mixture is close to combined. To finish, you simply fill the remainder of the glass with crushed ice, garnish, and serve.

While mint sprigs are the traditional garnish for this cocktail, like the original Mint Julep itself, candied ginger and/or edible violets are also excellent choices.

Napoleon Julep

Napoleon Julep

If you enjoy the basic premise of the Mint Julep – particularly the combination of spirits and sweetness with cool and refreshing crushed ice – but are looking for a more sophisticated, intricate drink, you should check out the Napoleon Julep.

This iteration of the Mint Julep has abandoned its southern roots, and in fact was created in New York City City by one Chirs Bennet – beverage director of the iconic cocktail bar Porchlight.

One of the most interesting components of the Napoleon Julep is the Xocolatl Mole bitters. Mole is a traditional Mexican sauce, and in this case, the bitters bring through flavors of cinnamon, cacao, and hot spices, which adds intricacy and interest to this cocktail.

Despite not having the traditional bourbon, or even the muddled mint, the Napoleon Julep still does justice to its inspiring ancestor.

To create this upscale beverage, you will need to combine two ounces of cognac (preferably Hennessy), a half ounce of St-Germain elderflower liqueur, a quarter ounce of green tea syrup, and two dashes of Bittermens Xocolatl mole bitters to a julep glass or tall old fashioned glass.

Then pack the glass halfway full with crushed or pebbled ice, and swizzle or briskly whisk until the mixture is well combined and gently frothy, and the glass has a layer of frosty condensation.

Finally, add more ice in a mound just over the brim of the glass, and garnish with a mint sprig and a little fresh lemon zest.

Blackberry Mint Julep Margarita

Blackberry Mint Julep Margarita

If you enjoy the original fresh flavors of the Mint Julep but are just craving a little more fruity sweet flavor, the blackberry Mint Julep is a great choice.

This drink was created to celebrate the merger of Derby Day and Cinco de Mayo, which often falls on the same day or at least the same weekend. It’s a beautiful melding of the Southern classic with sweet Mexican flavors.

To create this delicious drink, simply muddle five blackberries, six mint leaves, and an ounce of honey syrup in a cocktail shaker. Then, add in two ounces of tequila, an ounce of freshly squeezed lime juice, and some ice, and shake until well combined and chilled.

Fill a julep cup or other vessel of your choice with crushed ice, then strain the cocktail mix gently over the ice. Garnish with a couple of blackberries, a drizzle of blackberry syrup, and some sprigs of mint.

You can also make honey syrup at home if you’re unable to find it near you, and it’s even easier than making green tea syrup.

You just heat a half cup of honey and a half cup of water gently on the stove, stir until thoroughly combined, and rebottle. This makes the honey runnier and easier to pour and combine into cold drinks.

Similar Cocktails You Will Enjoy

Similar Cocktails You Will Enjoy

If you’d prefer a totally different cocktail to the Mint Julep (but still enjoyed it), there are many similar cocktails out there.

We’ve selected these drinks because they share a couple of key characteristics with the Mint Julep, but still have their own unique vibe and flavor. We’re sure you’ll enjoy at least one of these tasty beverages – if not them all.

Whiskey Smash

Whiskey Smash

The Whiskey Smash has a very similar flavor profile to the Mint Julep. However, it has the addition of strong citrus flavors, and a cubed rather than crushed ice.

To make it, you muddle three lemon wedges in a cocktail shaker, and then add in two ounces of bourbon, three-quarters of an ounce of simple syrup, four mint leaves, and ice, and shake until well combined and chilled.

Then, strain the drink into a rocks glass and garnish with a lemon wedge and mint sprig.

Simply shaking the mint leaves rather than muddling them gives this cocktail a more subtle mint flavor than the Mint Julep. However, it’s still definitely present.

You may also want to use a fine strainer or double strain this drink to ensure no seeds or pith from the whole lemon wedges make their way into the final drink.

Old Fashioned

Old Fashioned

If you’re a fan of bourbon whisky cocktails, the Old Fashioned is definitely going to be a go-to. It’s a super pure and simple tasting cocktail, and a great choice if you enjoyed the base flavors of the Mint Julep but could do without the intense mintiness and crushed ice.

To make an Old Fashioned, you simply place a sugar cube into an old-fashioned glass, drench it with Angostura bitters, and then muddle until close to dissolved with a dash of water.

Then, add in ice, an ounce and a half of bourbon whiskey, garnish with an orange wedge, and enjoy.

Derby Cocktail

Derby Cocktail

Looking to celebrate Derby Day, but a bit over the Mint Julep? You can always make a Derby cocktail. Also known as a Brown Derby, this simple cocktail is another favorite for the races but has more of an air of sophistication than the humble Julep.

To make it, you will need to add an ounce and a half of bourbon, an ounce of grapefruit juice, and a half ounce of honey syrup to a cocktail shaker.

Then, shake with ice until well chilled and combined, strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with a twist of grapefruit peel, and sip happily.

You might also be interested in...
0 votes, average: 0.00 out of 50 votes, average: 0.00 out of 50 votes, average: 0.00 out of 50 votes, average: 0.00 out of 50 votes, average: 0.00 out of 5 (0 votes, average: 0.00 out of 5)
You need to be a registered member to rate this.

Related Posts

Similar Articles