Food & Drinks

Mint Juleps Aren’t Just For Derby Day

It had been a long time since I made—or drank—a Mint Julep when I made them on May 7th. I virtually joined the folks in the stands of Churchill Downs in cheering the horses on with a cold one and reminisced about the time I was actually there. At Churchill Downs, they pour the bottled Old Forester Mint Julep Ready-to-Serve Cocktail which makes sense when you are serving 120,000 Mint Juleps over a two-day weekend. But when you are making a few for friends, it’s worth it to make it from scratch.

After a couple of sips, I remembered why I love a Mint Julep. Most bourbon cocktails are warming, but the combination of the mint and the crushed ice makes this bourbon cocktail refreshing and perfect for warm weather. That got me to thinking, why don’t I drink these minty icy bourbon cocktails more often?

Since I made a batch of mint simple syrup for my Derby Day Julep, it is now just as easy to make one as it is to pour a bourbon on the rocks.

When I make a Julep with a simple syrup, I call that a “Front-Porch Mint Julep.” And, when I roughly muddle mint and sugar together in a glass, add ice and bourbon, I call that a Back Porch Mint Julep because it is not as refined. It’s not just the way it looks, the flavors aren’t as refined either.

In fact, in an effort to make a Julep with a crystal clean mint flavor, I have completely changed the way I make my mint simple syrup. It may be blasphemy for some purists, but I now make my simple syrup with mint extract instead of fresh mint. Besides being messy, the fresh mint can taste green and grassy and not purely minty. I still use fresh mint as a garnish and always make the Julep in a pewter or silver julep cup so that I can enjoy the frosty experience.

Front Porch Mint Julep

Famous throughout the South, and absolutely synonymous with the Kentucky Derby, the julep has passed the test of time for good reason. Bourbon and mint are natural partners. This drink is traditionally served in a Julep cup—silver or pewter—and reminds us that it is just the thing to drink on a hot day, as the ice inside the drink causes the metal cup to frost. This version involves making a simple syrup infused with mint.

Makes 1 drink

2 teaspoons mint-infused simple syrup (recipe below)

2 ounces/4 tablespoons Kentucky bourbon such as Basil Hayden, Maker’s Mark, Old Forester, Woodford Reserve

Crushed ice

Mint sprig for garnish

Fill Julep cup, preferably silver or pewter, or other glass, with crushed ice. When it is cold on the outside, pour the syrup through the ice. Add the bourbon, stir gently and serve garnished with a sprig of mint.

To make the mint-infused syrup:

It is so easy to make your own mint simple syrup that there is no reason not to.

1 cup filtered water

1 cup granulated white sugar

1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract

Sprig fresh mint leaves, cleaned

  1. Mix water and sugar together in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Heat over a low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved.
  2. Bring to a roaring simmer for 1-2 minutes. Add mint extract.
  3. Remove from heat. Let cool. The syrup can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator.
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