The mint julep is one of the classic cocktails that any bartender needs in their back pocket. However, you don’t need to be a professional bartender to create a delicious mint julep right at home. All you need is a solid recipe and excellent bourbon.
This guide will cover twelve of the best bourbons you can use to make an incredible mint julep. We’ll also cover some basics about this cocktail, its base liquor, and any common questions related to the topic.
Here are the twelve best bourbon brands for a mint julep.
Woodford Reserve is the official liquor of the Kentucky Derby for a reason. This bourbon goes into every mint julep at the annual Kentucky Derby because it’s subtle enough for those unsure of bourbon but still bold enough to add flavor and texture.
Four Roses Single Barrel earns its name with a floral-forward aroma and flavor. If you prefer herbal and floral liquor, you’ll be pleased with the earthy yet pleasant flavor of Four Roses.
The delicate yet commanding flavor is delicious on its own, but once it’s paired with the ingredients of a mint julep, it’ll be hard to put down your glass.
Maker’s Mark Cask Strength is on the sweeter side of bourbon flavor. The subtle smoke and spice notes are still there but waiting in the background a bit. If you often find the strong taste of bourbon overwhelming, this may be the perfect introduction to bourbon for you.
Old Forester Signature is famous as the “first bottled bourbon.” This bourbon has been so popular and for such a long time that they even allowed sales of Old Forester during Prohibition “as medicine.”
When you want a mint julep that tastes like tradition, go for Old Forester.
Wild Turkey Rare Breed is described as “straight from the barrel flavor,” and we concur. If you’re caught off guard, the flavor in this bourbon might knock you off your feet. The intense spice and smokiness in the liquor would be overwhelming if the smooth finish weren’t present.
Jim Bean is a classic Kentucky straight bourbon that practically everyone knows. The flavor is solid, and the price is perfect for those who don’t want to empty their wallet on a bottle of bourbon. If you’ve got a budget but still want the taste of premium liquor, go with Jim Bean.
Knob Creek 100 Proof is a small-batch bourbon aged nine years. The result is a sweet and smoky symphony with a bold vanilla and caramel flavor at the front. The fruity aftertaste of this robust bourbon meshes perfectly with the sugar and mint in a delicious mint julep.
Yellowstone Select Bourbon is a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey with a ton of flavor. If you’re looking for a bourbon that will come through in your mint julep rather than hide behind the mint, you’ve got the perfect drink here.
Elijah Craig Small Batch is named after the so-called “inventor” of bourbon whiskey, Elijah Craig. Whether Craig invented the liquor, the Elijah Craig Small Batch is one of the best bourbons around.
The primary notes in this bourbon are spice, nutmeg, and smoke, which pair well with the cool and crisp flavor of a mint julep.
New Riff Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a high-rye whiskey that leans away from the sweet and towards the savory. The bold spice of rye mixes with the oaky burn of aging in this bourbon.
Jack Daniels is not bourbon, we know. However, this drink’s taste, process, and popularity still make it an excellent contender for a mint julep. Although the brand prefers the title “Tennessee whiskey,” the liquor is prepared the same way as bourbon.
Barton 1792 Full Proof is a citrus-forward bourbon. That subtle citrus flavor is often found in rye whiskey, but it’s a bit rare in bourbon.
That delicious citrus flavor makes this an excellent companion to a mint julep, where the crisp taste is critical.
What Is a Mint Julep?
A mint julep is an alcoholic mixed drink with bourbon, ice, fresh mint, and sugar. This classic cocktail is generally associated with the Southern United States because bourbon was created and is traditionally made in the region.
Kentucky bourbon is especially famous, and because of this, the mint julep is the signature drink for the state of Kentucky. The mint julep is also the official cocktail of the Kentucky Derby, an annual horse race in Louisville, Kentucky, that began in 1875.
The mint julep has been the official drink of the Kentucky Derby since 1938, but the cocktail’s history goes back far further than that. Although evidence suggests the mixed drink existed long before, the first record of the mint julep came in 1770 as a mention in a play, and an early recipe came in a 1784 physician’s journal, which touted the drink as medicinal.
The idea of alcoholic drinks as medicine was fairly common in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The physician’s journal stated the mint julep would cure nausea and stomach sickness. Interestingly, peppermint does help ease nausea, so the original idea was partially correct.
Early recipes in bartender’s guides stated that a mint julep could use whiskey, gin, Cognac, or brandy as the base liquor. However, the idea of using anything but bourbon in a mint julep in the American South was unheard of back then and today.
Bourbon is a variety of whiskey distilled in the United States. To be considered bourbon, the liquor must contain a minimum of 51% corn content, be produced in the United States, and age in a new charred oak barrel.
Like many vintage cocktails, a mint julep can be as easy or complicated as you want it to be. Some people go all out and add rare and fancy ingredients, but we’ve chosen a simple and traditional mint julep recipe here.
2 ½ ounces Bourbon
5 to 8 mint leaves
½ ounce simple syrup (or two sugar cubes)
One mint leaf (for garnish)
Once you have all the ingredients, follow these steps:
- Place the five to eight mint leaves in the bottom of a drinking glass (preferably an old-fashioned glass or julep cup). Cover the leaves with simple syrup (or sugar cubes) and muddle the mint leaves.
- Pour the bourbon over the mint leaves and simple syrup or dissolved sugar. Add the crushed ice until the glass is full.
Stir the liquid until well-mixed and frothy. Add a mint leaf for garnish. Enjoy!
Here are some frequently asked questions regarding bourbon and making a mint julep.
What is the difference between a mojito and a mint julep?
A mint julep contains bourbon, crushed ice, water, mint, and sugar, and a mojito contains white rum, sugar, lime juice, mint, and soda water. Although both drinks have mint and sugar, the base liquor and other ingredients differ.
Why do they drink mint juleps at the Kentucky Derby?
The histories of bourbon and Kentucky are intertwined, as many people believe the southern state is where the whiskey variation was first invented. Legend has it that Elijah Craig, a Baptist preacher in Kentucky, created bourbon, but this story is broadly disputed.
No matter the history, bourbon is the base liquor of a mint julep, and the mint julep quickly became the signature cocktail of Kentucky. The Kentucky Derby is a huge annual event in the state, so naturally, everyone wanted a refreshing mint julep during the event. The mint julep is now the official drink of the Kentucky Derby.
Why is it called a mint julep?
A “julep” was a sweet drink that had medicinal properties. Alcoholic beverages and soda were promoted as medicinal beverages in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
So, the name mint julep referred to the sweet taste (julep) that contained mint as a therapeutic remedy for nausea.
What is the difference between whiskey and bourbon?
Bourbon is a type of whiskey. There are four major categories of whiskey: bourbon, rye, regional whiskey (Irish, American, Canadian, etc.), and scotch. Bourbon is a type of American whiskey that contains at least 51% corn content, is produced in America, and ages in new charred oak barrels.
What bourbon is used at the Kentucky Derby?
The official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby is Woodford Reserve and is used in all mint juleps and other whiskey-based beverages at the event.
Woodford Reserve, Old Forester, and Early Times are all whiskey brands under the Brown-Forman Corporation, and each brand is associated with the Kentucky Derby.
The mint julep is a refreshing and delicious vintage cocktail that stuck around for a good reason. But there’s no need to visit the Kentucky Derby to enjoy an authentic mint julep at home.
Whether you’re looking for the perfect bourbon to buy off the shelf or pick out for the bartender, our list of the best bourbons for a mint julep should have you set.