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You’ll Love This Mint Julep Recipe: It’s a Sweet 3-Ingredient Sip for the Kentucky Derby

Find out a mixologist's trick to boosting the mint's flavor in this refreshing cocktail!

If your Kentucky Derby festivities on May 4 include having a mint julep in hand, you’ve come to the right place. Making this cocktail is simple with just 3 ingredients. Before you know it, you’ll have a drink that’s sweet, minty and refreshing. You can even prep ready-to-serve mint juleps for a Derby watch party using a mixologist’s 5-step method. Keep reading for tips on making this beloved cocktail from the comfort of your home!

What is a mint julep?

This cocktail is often made with bourbon, simple syrup (a sugar and water sweetener) and fresh mint. Once combined, this drink is traditionally served out of a silver julep cup before it’s topped with crushed ice and garnished with mint. What you end up with is a sweet and refreshing drink that has a rich boozy kick.

The mint julep and the Kentucky Derby’s history

Although the mint julep is a Kentucky Derby favorite, it was surprisingly first used as a health elixir in the 1700s. “The bourbon could help soothe the aches and pains, with sugar to soften the alcohol and mint to freshen the breath,” Elizabeth McCall, master distiller of Woodford Reserve (the Kentucky Derby’s official bourbon), explains to Vogue. Fast forward to 1875, this drink, now known as a thirst-quenching cocktail to beat the heat, is served at the first Derby race. Chris Goodlett, the Kentucky Derby Museum’s senior director of curatorial and educational affairs, highlights that it was already “a part of racing culture, not just the Derby.” But it didn’t become the official drink of the event until 1938 — several years after Prohibition ended. The rest is history as nearly 120,000 mint juleps are sold every year at the two-day horse racing event. However, it’s easy to make a homemade version of this drink in mere minutes!

Mixologist’s secret to a flavorful mint mint julep  

As the name suggests, fresh mint takes center stage to give this drink a cooling essence. To maximize this herb’s flavor, mixologist Jamie Boudreau recommends smacking the mint between your hands. (Yes, you read that correctly.) It turns out this trick releases the essential oils in the herb without bruising the leaves. Therefore, you’ll have a more intense mint flavor in your cocktail along with a pop of color. Boudreau says all you need to do is place your desired amount of mint leaves in one hand and smack it with the other. From there, he notes you’re ready to “start building your mint julep, and away you go.” Watch his demonstration at the 1:13 mark of this video posted on Howdini’s YouTube channel.

Related: Don’t Discard Mint or Basil! Use Them To Make Herb-Infused Cocktails (2 Recipes)

How to make a single mint julep

It doesn’t get better than this Traditional Mint Julep recipe from Andy Wahl, co-founder of Daylight Wine & Spirits. The recipe uses Ammunition Straight Bourbon Whiskey for hints of caramel and vanilla flavors. But you can use your favorite bourbon and even a zero-proof kind for a non-alcoholic version. This drink is sure to quench your thirst as you’re watching the Derby race unfold! (This Kentucky Derby Pie recipe is another traditional treat to enjoy for the occasion.)

Mint Julep

A mint julep (classic Kentucky Derby drink) served in a silver cup and garnish with fresh mint


  • 2 oz. bourbon
  • 8 mint leaves, smacked
  • ¼ oz. simple syrup (store-bought or homemade)
  • Mint sprig, for garnish


  • Total time: 5 mins
  • Yield: 1 drink
  1. Pour bourbon, simple syrup and smacked mint leaves into large silver cup or clean glass. Stir rapidly until ingredients are combined.
  2. Top with crushed ice. Stir again and garnish with mint sprig. Serve.
  3. Note: If desired, strain drink into separate ice-filled cup.

How to make a batch of mint juleps for a crowd

If you want to make mint juleps for up to 10 people, try this make-ahead method from Molly Horn, chief mixologist and spirits educator at Total Wine & More. It requires some prep, but it’s worth it as you can store the entire mixed drink in the fridge and serve it in seconds the next day!

1. Make a mint extract.

Place ½ cup of bourbon (from a 750 ml bottle) and handful of smacked mint leaves into a small airtight container. Cover and sit at room temperature for an hour. Strain the extract into a sieve placed over a small bowl or measuring cup and set liquid aside.

2. Sweeten the bourbon base.

Pour the remaining bottle of bourbon into a large bowl, saving the container to use for storing the julep later. Gradually add plain simple syrup to the alcohol to taste. A good rule of thumb is to start with ¼ cup and add more if needed. (Keep in mind that chilling this mixture will heighten the sweetness, so you don’t want it to be overly sweet.)

3. Assemble the julep.

Once the bourbon base reaches your desired sweetness, stir in the mint extract.

4. Chill the drink.

Using a funnel, pour the julep into the empty bourbon bottle. Place cap back onto the bottle (if possible) or cover and chill overnight.

5. Garnish and serve.

When it’s time to pour each serving into a cup, have plenty of crushed ice and fresh mint sprigs on hand to garnish.

Bonus trick for the most refreshing mint julep

For a touch of fizz, Horn finishes the cocktail with champagne. “My absolute favorite way to enhance the experience of a mint julep is to top it with champagne — delicious!” she says. Do this just before adorning the drink with mint as it’s a nice twist to the classic cocktail. (Learn how to store opened champagne so the rest of the bottle maintains its bubbles.)

Read on for more tasty cocktail recipes!

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