Mint Juleps are the perfect Kentucky Derby drink. (Dreamstime)

What has been called the most exciting two minutes in sports saunters up when the 145th Kentucky Derby takes off, and for this event you will need a mint julep.

What’s not to like? With barbecue on the menu and a very cold minty drink in hand, the horse race is easy to figure out and root for, and it doesn’t last too long. Also, hats.

In 1938, the mint julep with a bourbon base became the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. But so many julep recipes call for muddling sugar and mint before pouring in the ice and bourbon. The sugar doesn’t dissolve very well into the drink, and the result can taste like toothpaste or a glass of straight booze with a hint of mint.

Much better, I have found, is to make a kind of sugar syrup mint tea. Use a ratio of 1/2 cup sugar per 1 cup water, and throw in a handful of mint leaves while you boil the water and sugar in the microwave or on the stove. The end result is a grass-colored syrup that gives the drink an underlying mint flavor boosted by more fresh mint as garnish.

You can make the syrup well ahead of time and freeze or store it in the refrigerator until Derby day, then use it to make drinks by the glass or a large batch for a crowd.

When you make the drink, use equal parts bourbon and mint syrup. Have lots of crushed ice and fresh mint on hand. Crushed ice is preferred because the drink is going to taste really strong if there’s no ice to water it down. The glass itself is worth attention because traditionalists use the good silver or pewter. They will hold the glass by the rim so the drink stays as cold as possible.

Lawdy, now you are ready for the fine Southern tradition of day drinking.


1/2 gallon minted syrup (recipe below)

1.75 liter bottle of good bourbon, such as Maker’s Mark

Crushed ice

Fresh mint leaves, for garnish

For a crowd: Combine syrup and bottle of bourbon and stir. Pour into a glass with lots of crushed ice and fresh mint for garnish.

By the glass: Pour two shots of bourbon with equal parts mint syrup.

Source: Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Tampa Bay Times

Minted Simple Syrup

4 cups sugar (fine turbinado sugar preferred)

8 cups water

Large handful of fresh mint leaves

Use a ratio of 1/2 cup of sugar per cup of water, and throw in a handful of mint leaves while you boil the water and sugar in the microwave or stove top. Let cool, strain leaves and reserve syrup in the refrigerator or freeze until ready to use.

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