The classic mint julep recipe is probably most closely associated with the Kentucky Derby—the iconic annual horse race held the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs—but it makes a great spring and summer cocktail no matter the occasion. This version from Erik Lombardo, who previously oversaw the bar program at New York City restaurant Maialino and is currently the general manager at Marta, is as close as you'll get to the mint juleps they serve at the Derby without having to make your way to Kentucky.
With a fresh-made mint simple syrup (don't worry, making the simple syrup is easy: it's just sugar, water, and fresh mint leaves), plenty of crushed ice, and of course, bourbon, this knockout cocktail is a refreshing show-stopper. If you're not sure what bourbon to use, you might want to opt for the brand of bourbon they actually serve at the Kentucky Derby, which is Woodford Reserve (though any type of good bourbon will work). Lombardo also suggests that since the original mint juleps were made with rum (Jamaican rum, that is), rum is a great substitute for bourbon if you find yourself in a pinch. He even adds that if you can find real peach brandy (that is, a spirit distilled from fermented peaches and aged in wood barrels—not a sweetened cordial), you should combine it with the bourbon in this cocktail for a supremely delicious result.
No matter which type of spirit you choose (though we're a sucker for the classic bourbon), this classic mint julep recipe is sure to impress your guests—whether you're hosting a Kentucky Derby party, backyard get-together, or want to mix up a drink to sip by the pool. —Erik Lombardo
Test Kitchen Notes
We can't get enough of this classic mint julep recipe—with a homemade mint simple syrup and a hearty splash of good bourbon—from bartender extraordinaire Erik Lombardo, especially during Derby season. —The Editors
rich mint syrup, or to taste (recipe below)
For mint syrup: Make a simple syrup by heating 2 parts sugar with 1 part water in a sauce pan until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is just simmering. Add 1 cup of mint leaves to the pan and turn off the heat. Stir to mix in the leaves, then allow the mixture to cool to room temperature, about a couple of hours. Strain the syrup into a clean jar. It will keep in the fridge for a few weeks (if it even lasts that long; mine never does).
Combine the ingredients in a classic julep cup if you have it, a tin cup if you don’t, or a double old-fashioned glass if you must. Fill with crushed ice and stir until ice forms on the outside—with all that crushed ice it won’t take long. Ice out of an ice crusher is fine, but even better is ice crushed in a canvas bag with a wooden mallet (or, a kitchen towel with a rolling pin. This ice takes on more of a snowy consistency and is absolutely beautiful.
Once the ice has formed on the outside of the vessel, top with additional ice into a cone and add an irresponsible amount of fresh mint tops.