A short history of the Mint Julep
One of the Mint Julep’s major claims to fame is its starring role in The Great Gatsby in the hand of the novel’s hapless heroine Daisy, who named it her summertime cocktail of choice. In the real world, it’s perhaps best known as the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, where the cooling cocktail is sipped along the racetrack as thoroughbreds compete for the winning title.
It’s also worth noting (and an interesting fact to share with friends over drinks) that the julep itself is actually a category of drinks that refers to cocktails featuring a spirit served over crushed ice. While you can happily serve it in a rocks glass without raising any eyebrows, a classic Mint Julep is traditionally served in a silver or pewter Julep cup that is held by the handle or rim so the cup maintains optimum frost.
How exactly do you muddle mint leaves?
Muddling mint leaves is not hard at all, but it does call for a light touch. The tools you’ll need to muddle mint for a Mint Julep include your glass of choice (either a Julep cup or a rocks glass), and a wooden cocktail muddler, or an unfinished wooden spoon.
When you muddle your mint leaves and simple syrup together, go slowly and gently to ensure that the leaves are not roughly torn in the process. This will ensure that the aromatic oils from the mint is released without adding any lingering bitter notes to your drink.
Tip: If you want to make crushed ice at home, we recommend investing in something called a Lewis Bag. Originally used by banks to transport coins, clever 19th-century bartenders started using it to make crushed ice, taking full advantage of the canvas sack’s durability and ability to absorb excess water.
What is the best bourbon for a Mint Julep?
A good rule of thumb is to use the best bourbon you can find. Since the spirit is the only liquid that goes into the drink, it plays a big role in the ultimate flavor profile. As such, you want to go for a bourbon that you would be happy to sip neat.
If you want to go really traditional and play into the Kentucky Derby legacy of the cocktail, we’d recommend choosing a Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Made from a mash of at least 51% corn grain, and aged for two years in charred oak barrels, this kind of bourbon is smooth, sweet, and a popular ingredient for Mint Julep cocktails.
Tip: A slightly higher-proof bourbon will keep the crushed ice from diluting the cocktail too quickly.