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Cocktail Time: Classic Mint Julep

Posted on May 5, 2012 by in Recipes | 0 comments


Let me start by saying that I do not condone horse racing. I think it’s despicable and I would be happy if it were banned. That being said, I have a passion for history and tradition, and the Kentucky Derby is something that is steeped in both. While I won’t be watching the race, I’m not one to pass up the opportunity for a cocktail, especially one that has such deep ties to a region’s history.

So first, a little background on the classic cocktail. Some say the original version of the cocktail was created in the Middle East – generally consisting of water and rose petals, however, once it made it’s way to the Mediterranean region mint replaced the rose petals and a more modern version of the drink was born.

The U.S. version, which consists of mint, sugar, bourbon whiskey, and water showed up on the east coast in the 1700’s, but was not mentioned in print until around 1803. The drinks is said to have been the ‘coffee’ of farmers on the east coast during this time because they would get up before dawn and this drink would get them ready to take on the day. This refreshing and awakening quality is what brought the drink to the Kentucky Derby. In order to beat the heat during the traditional race, mint juleps were served in a silver or pewter cup (which you only held on the top rim or bottom to let the exterior frost up) to patrons to keep them cool. In 1938 the mint julep became the official drink of the Kentucky Derby and a tradition was born.

Fast forward to today. Now hundreds of variations of this drink exist and more than 80,000 of them are served at the event alone. I’ve had several versions of the mint julep over the years and I have finally found the perfect balance between the sweetness of the sugar, the refreshing quality of the mint, and the sting of the whiskey. If you like your cocktails less sweet, then feel free to cut back on the simple syrup and add a little more water. I like to add a few muddled mint leaves to my actual drink, so if you are a mint fan you can do so as well – though most people prefer to strain theirs before drinking.

So, while I assume most of you will not be watching the Kentucky Derby this weekend, don’t feel guilty about sipping on a cocktail that was once considered the equivalent of coffee!

Classic Mint Julep


  • 1 oz Mint Simple Syrup (see recipe below)
  • 5 Mint Leaves
  • 2 oz Jack Daniels (or other vegan-friendly bourbon whiskey)
  • Crushed Ice
  • Splash of Water
  • Mint Sprig, for garnish


  1. Add the mint leaves and simple syrup together in a highball glass or a traditional silver julep cup. Muddle the syrup and leaves together until the leaves are slightly broken down. Fill the glass with crushed ice and add the bourbon whiskey and a splash of water. Top with a sprig of mint.
  2. Variation: If you don't like mint leaves in your drink, you can muddle the leaves and syrup in a shaker first. Then fill the shaker with ice and add the bourbon whiskey. Shake until well combined then pour through the strainer into the ice-filled high ball glass. Top with a splash of water and sprig of mint.


Mint Simple Syrup


  • 1 cup Fresh Mint Leaves, chopped
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 1 cup Water


  1. Bring the mint, sugar, and water to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer the mixture for 2-3 minutes. Let cool and strain through a fine sieve, pressing on the leaves to get as much mint flavor out as possible. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

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