The Only Mint Julep Recipe You'll Ever Need
Updated: May 4, 2018
There are tons of recipes for mint juleps out there. Many of the distilleries are updating the classic version using modern ingredients like champagne or basil. But just as in life, you simply can't beat the classic. This recipe has been in my family for as long as I can remember and it does take some pre-planning for the mint simple syrup.
Snipping it from your back yard is best and how we make ours. Of course, this takes a year or two to grow in order to harvest enough for a party. I've gotten starters from family members and friends as well as added to my garden with small plants from Lowe's. Make sure you get the regular mint as stores will carry peppermint, spearmint, or even lemon-mint. You do not want any of these as it will drastically affect the flavor of your mint julep. Take the image above to your nursery and ask for this basic herb. You will need stems for the simple syrup as well as the individual drinks, and loose leaves as well. I have a 3'x5' area full of mint in my garden and am always worried about having enough. Derby Day is always the first Saturday in May, and even in Georgia, my mint hasn't come in all the way yet. It does bounce back later in the summer, but harvesting for a party of 25 where we'll serve over 50 mint juleps requires nearly 30-40 mint sprigs. Beware of over harvesting, like I did one year, or you'll be restarting your mint garden from zero.
Harvest your mint for your simple syrup right before you plan on using it. You can keep some stems in a vase of water in your refrigerator for a few days. To make your simple syrup, bring as much water to a boil as you'll need for the amount of drinks you want to make. The ratio is one cup of sugar for each cup of water. I boil my water first, then add my sugar & stir until it completely dissolves. We typically plan on 60 servings, so we'll make 15 cups of mint simple syrup which is almost 3.5 liters or just under 1 gallon. You will need a funnel and a strainer or cheesecloth to make this part of the process go smoothly. And let me break down the math:
each drink = 2 oz simple syrup + 2 oz bourbon + special topper (keep reading!)
8 ounces/1cup so each cup will yield simple syrup for 4 drinks
I hope this helps you determine how much simple syrup to make!
Once you've dissolved all of your sugar into the boiling water, turn the heat off. Allow the syrup to cool while you get your glass containers and funnel together. I have used everything from clip top bottles with lockable lids, empty bourbon bottles, and even glass bowls. Pour your simple syrup into your containers and add mint sprigs. I save the pretty stems for the cocktail garnish and the the more sparse stems for the simple syrup. The flavor comes from the leaves so don't remove those. Cool overnight and in the morning put it in the refrigerator to chill for the rest of the day. After 24 hours of steeping, you will need to remove the mint or else the syrup becomes bitter. I made the mistake one year & over steeped--the syrup was completely unusable! Strain the syrup over a strainer or cheesecloth into a bowl and then return to your glass bottles. Label as mint simple syrup and congratulations, the hardest part is over!
Drumroll please! Here is what you will need for the perfect classic mint julep:
Silver Mint Julep Cup
Fresh Mint Sprigs
Loose Mint Leaves
Mint Simple Syrup
Your Bourbon of Choice
First, put a few mint leaves in the cup and lightly muddle. Mix 2 oz of simple syrup with 2 oz of bourbon in a cocktail shaker. Fill julep cup with ice. The standard recipe recommends crushed ice but we have a Scotsman ice maker and use the top hat ice. It works perfectly. I would not use shaved ice as it melts easily and weakens the flavor of the julep. Pour the bourbon plus syrup mixture over the ice, top with a splash of club soda, add the straw and place the mint sprig next to the straw. This is so that you get the smell of mint each time you take a sip from the straw which is extremely important for the true mint julep experience.
I make my juleps slightly sweeter than the distillers recommend because I have found that everyone raves over this version. I believe in this recipe so much, I'll place it next to Woodford's $1000 version. Mine just doesn't come with the precious metal julep cup. What makes the Woodford Reserve $2500 & $1000 juleps so special is not only the ingredients ( which includes elderflower cordial and Pimm's liqueur) but also the precious metal julep cups and the money goes to equine and humanitarian charities--way to go Master Woodford Reserve Distiller Chris Morris!
Here are a couple more quick tips. We batch our mint simple syrup and bourbon mixture so we just have to pour over ice and add the splash of soda. The julep cups sweat so I have cotton embroidered cocktail napkins for each guest to use. And to keep the theme going, I love making mint julep cupcakes and these bite sized cheesecakes from the loopy whisk.
Remember, it takes preparation and practice to get the julep just right. Too bad you'll have to taste it along the way, ha! I can't wait to hear how your guests loved your juleps!