Don’t overcomplicate this classic cocktail.
Much like a roast chicken or pasta carbonara, when you have a classic properly prepared, you know it, and all past iterations you’ve consumed in the past pale in comparison. A Mint Julep is no exception despite its perceived simplicity.
Even though it only requires three or four ingredients, each component of this Southern staple needs to be carefully hosen and balanced with each other. We’ve all been to that derby party where the Juleps are closer to spiked sweet tea and others where one sip knocks you off the porch swing. Ratios and quality are key, and once you’ve found your flow, you’ll find yourself making them all summer long.
Here are five things to consider in the practice and art of Julep mixing.
Be shrewd with sugar
While some insist on stirring in superfine sugar like recipes of yore, we think a simple syrup (homemade not store-bought) makes for the easiest way add sugar to a Julep. But however you sweeten, do so with restraint. Our ratio rule: use ¼ oz. simple syrup to each 2 oz. of bourbon. Our favorite professional bartender make their own simple syrup with turbinado syrup so the result is a deeper, more complex sweetness that plays well with the caramel and vanilla notes in bourbon. It’s easy to fix and keep in the fridge ahead of any Derby Day soiree. Just heat two parts turbinado sugar and one part water on the stove until the sugar dissolves and let cool.
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Be fresh with mint
Mint is more than a garnish when it comes to Juleps. While some recipes like to take short cuts by infusing the simple syrup with mint, you can’t mix a true Julep without fresh mint. At parties in Louisville on Derby Day, you’ll see crates of the herb behind the bar, and there’s a reason: muddling it brings out that refreshing, bracing note you need to balance with the sugar and booze. But be gentle when you muddle. Any violent force will coax a bitter taste from the leaves.
Be choosy with ice
The cubes from your freezer’s icemaker isn’t going to cut it. Part of the allure of a Mint Julep is not only the pony tail of fresh mint garnishing the silver cup, but the dome of crushed ice on top, almost like a sno-cone. While some grocery stores and gas stations sell pellet ice, the next best way to get the right consistency is to place ice inside a canvas bag and crush it with a few thwacks of a rolling pin.
Be selective with bourbon
Although you shouldn’t use anything rare or wildly expensive, Mint Juleps are worthy of better bourbon than bottom shelf. Our bottles of choice: Old Forester Signature 100 Proof; Bulleit Bourbon; Four Roses Yellow Label; Old Gran-Dad Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey; or Maker’s Mark. Feel free to use equal parts of two different bourbons if you want the spiciness of rye or the softness of a wheated bourbon.
Be thoughtful with your presentation
Silver cups may seem over the top, but nothing can compare to that ice-cold feel of grasping one in your hand. Investing in a set of pewter or copper cups (which can double for Moscow Mules) might make sense if your porch is your crew’s summer get-together go-to. But a highball or a rocks glass works well too if you only treat yourself to Juleps a few times a year.