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Classic Mint Julep

Popular with both horse racing enthusiasts and cocktail connoisseurs, the classic Mint Julep is inexorably tied to Kentucky’s annual derby. Discover why you’ll love this bourbon smash cocktail even if you don’t fit into either category. Then follow our classic Mint Julep recipe to craft the tasty drink at home.

Mint Julep Next to Hat and Yellow Flowers
Image: ©2foodtrippers

Until recently, we associated Mint Juleps with three things – the Kentucky Derby, southern belles and bonnets. We blame this association on fuzzy memories involving sorority girls wearing big floppy hats and sipping Mint Juleps at a New Orleans bar on the first Saturday in May years ago.

Fast forward to the present. After itching to craft Mint Juleps for months, we finally accomplished our goal. The issue was that we couldn’t find Mint Julep cups in our Lisbon, Portugal home city and not for lack of trying. After a lightbulb moment involving Amazon Spain, our problem was solved.

And guess what? We’re obsessed with the smashed bourbon cocktail that’s one of the easiest, tastiest and most refreshing sippers we’ve ever crafted at home. In other words, the classic Mint Julep has jumped to the top of our lazy mixology summer rotation.

What Is A Classic Mint Julep?

Top of a Mint Julep with Ice, Straw and Mint
The Mint Julep is more than the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. It’s also a classic bourbon cocktail that’s as easy to craft as it is to drink. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Typically served in a silver cup and requiring just four ingredients including ice, the Mint Julep is the official drink of the Kentucky Derby with nearly 120,000 people sipping Mint Juleps at Churchill Downs each May. That’s a lot of bourbon, fresh mint, sugar and crushed ice. Spoiler Alert – these are the only four required ingredients.

However, the classic Mint Julep is more than a novelty drink imbibed one weekend each year during the Triple Crown’s first leg. In addition to being the preferred drink for spectators watching 3-year-old thoroughbreds race around a track, the Mint Julep has a history that’s both long and distinguished. Plus, it tastes like spring in a cup.

History Of The Mint Julep

Mint Julep on Ledge
The Mint Julep’s history will surprise you if you assume that the drink was invented in Kentucky. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Leave your historical assumptions behind when you drink a Mint Julep. Despite its ties to the Kentucky Derby, the cocktail’s original recipe wasn’t created in Kentucky and didn’t include bourbon.

Research reveals that the original Mint Juleps were crafted in Virginia for medicinal purposes as far back as the 1700s. Back then, patriots and tavern owners likely added rum to their cocktails. It wasn’t until later that gin and eventually bourbon became the liquor of choice for Mint Julep recipes prepared in the American South and beyond.

Mindi and Mint Julep
If you watch the Kentucky Derby and don’t drink a Mint Julep, did you really watch the Kentucky Derby? We recommend doing both with vigor and glee. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Once bourbon became the Mint Julep’s star ingredient, it was only a matter of time before the sweet cocktail became the Kentucky Derby’s official drink in 1938. With a dedicated bourbon trail, distillers like Buffalo Trace, Jim Beam, Woodford Reserve and Maker’s Mark produce more than 2 million barrels of bourbon in the Bluegrass State each and every year.

The Mint Julep’s prominence at the annual horse race has reached a point where more than 100 thousand thirsty souls happily shell out $15 for each cocktail. A more exclusive group of attendees pay $1000 and even more to drink their Mint Juleps in special commemorative Kentucky Derby cups (for charity, of course).


Mint Julep Ingredients
Our classic Mint Julep recipe only requires four ingredients – fresh mint, bourbon, simple syrup and crushed ice. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

The ingredient list to craft a classic Mint Julep is incredibly simple with just the following four ingredients:

  • Kentucky Bourbon
  • Fresh Mint
  • Simple Syrup
  • Crushed Ice

You’ll want to use quality bourbon since it’s the star of the drink. You’ll also want to use fresh mint and homemade simple syrup. However, you can buy bottled simple syrup in a pinch.

Four Roses Bourbon
We enjoyed our first Mint Julep crafted with this bottle of Four Roses bourbon. As you can see, our bottle has seen more than a few races. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

If you’re stressed about choosing the best bourbon for your Mint Juleps, don’t worry. Your favorite Kentucky bourbon will work just fine.

We like to use Four Roses since the relatively inexpensive whiskey’s balanced flavors provide the best bang for our buck. The Kentucky Derby’s organizers use both Old Forester and Woodford Reserve. You can’t make a bad decision with any of these bourbons or the one that’s in your liquor cabinet.

Discover our favorite bourbon cocktails.

How To Craft A Mint Julep

Mint Julep Ingredients from Above
Crafting a Mint Julep at home doesn’t require any special tools or equipment. It also doesn’t require any special skills. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

The first step in our recipe is to tear off 10 mint leaves and place them into a Mint Julep cup. You can add a few extra mint leaves if you want your Mint Julep to taste extra minty.

Mint for Mint Julep
Using fresh mint is a must in this Mint Julep recipe. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Once again, finding the Julep cup was the most challenging part of this recipe for us. We finally gave up looking locally and ordered one online. Sure, we could have used a highball glass but the metal cup feels more festive.

The next step is to measure and pour simple syrup into a Mint Julep cup. If you prepare simple syrup in advance, it should stay fresh for a month or longer.

Pro Tip
Prepare simple syrup by boiling a 1:1 ratio of sugar and water in a small pot until the sugar dissolves.

Pouring Simple Syrup into a Mint Julep
Adding simple syrup is easy when you’ve pre-made a batch in advance. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Muddling the mint leaves and simple syrup is the most fun part of any Mint Julep recipe and ours is no exception. This step only takes a few minutes before the mint become noticeably fragrant.

Buy a muddler from Amazon if you don’t already have one. It’s a useful tool for this and other recipes.

Muddling a Mint Julep
Muddling transforms fresh mint and simple syrup into spearmint syrup. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

The next step is to measure, pour and stir the bourbon. We use a Japanese jigger to ensure accurate measurements and avoid spillage.

Buy a Japanese jigger from Amazon if you need a jigger or want an inexpensive upgrade.

Since our recipe calls for three ounces of bourbon, the end result is boozier than most Mint Julep recipes. While you may get a boozy hit when you take your first sip, the flavor will soften as the ice melts. Feel free to use less bourbon if you prefer a less boozy beverage.

Pouring Bourbon into Mint Julep
Once you’ve poured bourbon into the Mint Julep cup, you’re almost at the final furlong. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Adding crushed ice is the next step in this recipe. You’ll want to keep the ice in the freezer until you’re ready to use it so that it doesn’t melt. We’re fortunate to have a crushed ice maker on our refrigerator. If you’re not so lucky, you can crush your own ice by pulsing it in a blender or pounding it with a wooden mallet.

Pro Tip
Plan to use a lot of crushed ice. However much you think you need, you’ll probably need double that amount to fill your Mint Julep cup until it literally runneth over.

Adding Ice to a Mint Julep
Using crushed ice is a must in this recipe. How you crush it is up to you. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

The final step is to mold the ice into a dome shape and add a spring of mint as garnish.

Creating Ice Dome on a Mint Julep
Mindi used her hands to mold the top of this Mint Julep. The end result was worth her cold hands. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

We like to insert a metal straw to create an earth-friendly sipping situation and recommend that you do the same.

Mint Julep Food Pairings

Grilled Kentucky Hot Brown at Gibby's in Frankfort Kentucky
The Kentucky Hot Brown is one of the best sandwiches in America. It’s also one of the country’s most unusual sandwiches. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Since this bourbon cocktail is deceptively potent, you’ll want to serve your Mint Juleps with plenty of food. We recommend keeping to theme with southern food favorites like the following:

  • Bourbon Balls
  • Deviled Eggs
  • Fried Chicken
  • Fried Green Tomatoes
  • Kentucky Hot Brown Sandwiches
  • Pimento Cheese Sandwiches
Mint Julep from Above
Drinking a Mint Julep at home is fun. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Discover 10 essential bar tools for the home mixologist.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Mint Julep?

The Mint Julep is a bourbon smash cocktail crafted with four ingredients plus ice. It’s also the official drink of the Kentucky Derby.

Where was the Mint Julep invented?

The Mint Julep was invented in Virginia.

What are the ingredients in a Mint Julep?

Kentucky Bourbon, Fresh Mint, Simple Syrup and Crushed Ice

Is the Mint Julep shaken or stirred?

The Mint Julep is stirred, not shaken.

What type of glass is best for the Mint Julep?

We like to serve this cocktail in a silver cup and you should do the same.

Did you craft this cocktail? If so, please rate the recipe below.

Mint Julep Next to White Tiles
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Mint Julep Recipe

Our classic Mint Julep recipe is as easy to make as it is to drink. It's also a boozy bourbon bombshell that you'll want to drink all summer long.
Prep Time5 minutes
Total Time5 minutes
Course: Drink
Cuisine: Cocktail
Servings: 1
Calories: 280kcal


  • 3 ounces bourbon (Kentucky)
  • 1 ounce simple syrup
  • 10 mint leaves
  • 1 sprig mint
  • crushed ice


  • Muddle mint leaves and simple syrup in a julep cup.
  • Add bourbon and stir well.
  • Fill cup 2/3 with crushed ice and stir again.
  • Add more crushed ice, forming a mound above the cup with your hands.
  • Add mint sprig as garnish.

Pro Tips

  • You can use a highball glass if you don’t have a Mint Julep cup.
  • You can add extra mint leaves if you prefer a mintier flavor.
  • You can reduce the bourbon if you prefer a less boozy beverage.

Estimated Nutrition

Calories: 280kcal | Carbohydrates: 22g | Protein: 0.4g | Fat: 0.1g | Saturated Fat: 0.02g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.1g | Sodium: 21mg | Potassium: 82mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 21g | Vitamin A: 467IU | Vitamin C: 4mg | Calcium: 30mg | Iron: 2mg
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About the Authors

Daryl and Mindi Hirsch

Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website. Since launching the site in 2012, they’ve traveled to over 40 countries in their quest to bring readers a unique taste of the world.


Article Updates
We update our articles regularly. Some updates are major while others are minor link changes and spelling corrections. Let us know if you see anything that needs to be updated in this article.

We purchased the ingredients and tools used to craft this cocktail.

Original Publication Date: April 27, 2021

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