Mint Julep

May 2nd, 2009

As one of the small number of British bloggers I sometimes find myself a little mystified by some of the events my contemporaries across the pond use as a thinly veiled excuse to drink (and there are many – both excuses and drinks that is). Today is the Kentucky Derby, a prime example of something I’d never even heard of before I began reading cocktail blogs but now see popping up in my feed reader, Twitter timeline and Facebook homepage every May.

From what I can gather it appears to be the American answer to the Grand National. I’ve never been able to summon much interest in horse racing beyond picking the weirdest name to bet on and admiring the ever more inventive millinery, but this year, by happy coincidence, I’ve found myself very interested in the traditional drink of the Kentucky Derby. The weather here in the UK has been particularly fine over the past few weeks, and after a Pimm’s Cup one of the best hot-weather drinks has to be a well made Mint Julep.

Dating from at least the early 1800s, the Mint Julep hails from the Southern United States and has, over the years, become the drink associated with the Kentucky Derby. “Juleps” were originally medicinal concoctions that sometimes did and sometimes didn’t contain alcohol. At some point in the eighteenth century a drink of spirits, sugar and water became known under the same name, and eventually someone had the fine idea of adding mint and ice to the mixture and the Mint Julep was born.

Mint Julep

Mint Julep

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Like any drink that’s been around a long time there are many recipes for the Mint Julep, and many opinions about exactly how to construct one. Personally I like the mint to be a fairly background accent so prefer to use just a small handful of mint leaves and only lightly press them. Either way it’s important not to over-muddle the mint as pulverising the leaves will release a lot of undesirable bitter flavours.

I also like to use sugar syrup rather than plain sugar as it’s far quicker and easier, and also avoids the potential for my pet hate – undissolved sugar granules. As for the bourbon, Woodford Reserve invests heavily in associating itself with the Kentucky Derby but while it does make a fine Mint Julep I personally prefer the slightly spicier notes of a bourbon like Bulleit, which is also a little cheaper than Woodford and, happily, relatively easy to get hold of here in the UK.

If you fancy adding a little extra twist to your Julep, a great addition recommended to me by Ago Perrone of the Connaught Bar is a dash of Fernet Branca. A bar-spoon or so adds a delicious bitter, herbal edge that pairs wonderfully with the mint and adds a lot of depth to the drink. Since trying a Julep with Fernet Branca I’ve not wanted to make one without it…

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Posted in Bourbon, Fernet Branca, Recipes

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20 responses to “Mint Julep”

  1. blair frodelius blair frodelius says:

    Finally! A use for my rarely used bottle of Fernet Branca. Will make a few of these today with my newly purchased silver julep cups.

    Thanks for this, Jay!



  2. Ryan Ryan says:

    Cocktail nerd alert!!!

    Ahem,adding Fernet disqualifies this mint julep from the ‘julep’ family. You’ve discovered a proper cocktail my friend. Is there such a thing as a ‘mint cocktail’??? If so, the naming possibilities are endless: “Italian Derby” off the top of my head. Now I must go make one.

  3. Christian Christian says:

    You can use a dash peach bitters in the mint julep – i like it.

    …or make it royal and fill up whit a little bit of champagne :-)

  4. ND ND says:

    A question I’ve had for a long time (slightly off topic) is this: we know that silver is a terrific conductor of heat; why then do bartenders not use silver julep cups for stirring drinks in, rather than the conventional mixing glasses—surely even a regular stainless steel mixing tin would chill a drink more effectively than the mixing glass? Just curious…

  5. Jay Jay says:

    Ryan – Technically not a julep, no. But if you tell someone you want a Mint Julep with a dash of Fernet Branca they’re going to know what you’re talking about. Drink categories are definitely useful and interesting, but I think these days they really don’t need to be treated as gospel.

    Christian – I love the way peach bitters work with bourbon, will have to give that a try.

    ND – I have tried stirring in a metal tin before. It does chill more effectively – perhaps too effectively as it results in far less water from the melted ice, which is something you definitely want to make the drink palatable. Mixing in a glass vessel looks much nicer too. I’d be interested in other thoughts and opinions on this though, anyone?

  6. Ruben Ruben says:

    I wonder… did you get your julep cup from your visit at Le Lion? Because there recently was a huge order of julep cups here in Germany that Jörg Meyer seems to have participated in:


    Do you prefer any special type of mint for your julep? I’ve found the Kentucky Spearmint to be very fitting, and not only because of its name ;)

  7. Tomek Tomek says:

    Have to try the Fernet Branca option now.

    ND – One of these links might hepl to answer your question:

  8. Jay Jay says:

    Ruben – Hehe, no my Julep cups are different to the ones the guys over in Germany though Jörg’s request for suppliers on Facebook did encourage me to pick some up. I’ve not really explored the different options for mint – I usually just grab a bag of “mint” from the supermarket.

    Tomek – Let me know what you think! Thanks for those great links.

  9. Andrew Andrew says:

    As an American, I am curious to what extent Europeans (and the English)would normally drink a mint julep. Over here, it is a regional thing, and most people who are not in the South East would never touch one.

  10. Ruben Ruben says:

    Andrew I think the Mint Julep is a superb refreshing an rich drink. And those are the attributes I like the most linked to drinks. So why not to mix it. Especially if it is served in this awesome cup that makes it look like a gift from the heavens.

  11. Heath Heath says:

    Geat suggestion on the Fernet Branca–I’ll have to try it on my return to civilisation!

  12. Victor Nordelöf Victor Nordelöf says:

    Ago for president! And for people with less “bitter-tooth” maybe should try your Julep with the somewhat sweeter more mintier Brancamenta (same company as Fernet Branca). Brrrrrrr… More bitters to the people!!

  13. niels niels says:

    Not only Fernet Branca works in a mint julep – also Gammel Dansk, Van Osten, and Boonekamp. My favorite though, is another Italian: a dash of Zucca Rabarbaro

  14. MxMo: Amaro — A Dash of Bitters says:

    [...] into mixing glass. Add lemon balm sprig. Muddle gently. (Lemon balm is in the mint family, and as with mint, if you over-muddle it, you’ll release unpleasant compounds into your cocktail.) Add ice and [...]

  15. Craig Umpleby Craig Umpleby says:

    Heya, does anyone know any good places to get Julep Cups in the UK?

  16. Jay Jay says:

    Andrew – To be honest, I doubt many people who aren’t in to drinks or haven’t visited a decent cocktail bar would have even heard of them. I don’t really recall ever coming across a julep before I got in to cocktails.

    Craig – I got mine from Annabel Chaffer. Not that cheap, but they are very good quality and look lovely.

  17. Robert Robert says:

    Mint. Bourbon. Sugar (syrup is OK. Hand crushed ice.
    Anything extra is not needed, and just confuses things

    Kentucky Colonel mint is my herb of choice, and I’ve tried them all.

    Anyone who thinks pineapple or chocolate mint would be a good idea…please have another mango mojito. It would seem to be a little more your thing.

    Sent from a Blackberry from the porch of a very old Southern Louisiana home. Guess what I’m drinking?

  18. PartyPlans PartyPlans says:

    Hi! I used to live in England and we had silver plastic reusable mint julep cups that were gold on the inside. They had to be washed by hand, but it seemed everyone had them (including some friends from Virgina). I have been looking for them online for days without success and was wondering if anyone knew where to find them!!!!

  19. George Sinclair George Sinclair says:

    Mint Julep.

    My Version.

    60ml Makers Mark Bourbon Whisky,
    20ml Gomme Syrup,
    2 lemon twists,
    8 mint leaves.

    Into a chilled tall glass, or Julep cup: Muddle the lemon twists with the gomme syrup, and then add the mint and bourbon whisky; Add crushed ice to the top of the glass, and then churn the ice thoroughly; Finally, top off the glass with a little bit more crushed ice, and decorate with fresh mint sprigs.

  20. Michael Michael says:

    I just bought a bottle of Fernet Branca at duty free. Any more cocktail recipes for Fernet you reccommend Jay?

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