If you hate mint juleps it’s either because you had a bad experience or you are doing it wrong. I’ve heard them often referred to as “alcoholic mouthwash” and who in their right mind would want to drink that? Historically mint juleps served a purpose – the mint covered up the unaged whiskey that you would drink in the morning as a “morning bracer” against yesterday’s hard frontier labor from which you still hadn’t recovered. Considering this context, why would they cover up unaged, substandard whiskey with more bad stuff? When executed properly, the mint julep is a refreshing springtime drink.

The Gold Standard Of Mint Juleps Can Be Found At The Silver Dollar

The Silver Dollar has one of the best Mint Juleps around. Bar Manager Susie Hoyt, a true hospitality professional, points out, “the right way for a person to enjoy bourbon or a mint julep is anyway that they like it.”

The mint juleps that most often come to mind in these discussions are the ones that are prepackaged and poured at Derby parties and The Kentucky Derby, oftentimes which become so watered down after a hot day in the Kentucky sun that all you can really taste is the mint. I’ve had plenty of the premade ones and they aren’t that bad, though I definitely prefer a handmade one. Making mint juleps from scratch isn’t all that difficult and the results can be quite lovely.

“Mint can be delicate so it needs to be stored properly to prevent wilting,” says Hoyt. “It’s tough to leave mint out on the bar on a hot day, but it can work if you are going through it fast enough. I recommend putting cold water in the bottom of an old fashioned glass and propping the mint up like a bouquet. Sometimes we’ll even throw an ice cube or two in the bottom to keep the water very cold. If the temperature is very warm or the mint is not being used regularly, it needs to be left it in the cooler.”

High quality, simple ingredients go a long way toward making this cocktail stand out. You can even grow the mint in your own backyard, though you might need a hoop house to be able to harvest it in time for Derby.

“We make our Julep with fresh mint, Demerara syrup, and bourbon,” Hoyt continues. “We recommend Four Roses Single Barrel and that’s how we serve all of ours at The Silver Dollar unless a guest requests another bourbon, but 100 is a great proof for this drink because you need your bourbon to be able to stand up to the crushed ice and dilution that comes with this cocktail. Demerara syrup is made with Demerara sugar which is unbleached cane sugar, originally from the Dutch colony of Demerara in Guyana.”

“To make the Julep, slap 5-7 mint leaves and use a bar spoon to pull the mint leaves up the side of the Julep tin. You’ll get a really great aroma from the mint oil and then all of the mint leaves are discarded to prevent any grassy/vegetal notes that come from leaving mint inside the tin. The drink is built in the Julep cup so the Demerara syrup and bourbon is added next. That is given a quick stir, and crushed ice is added to fill the tin half way. After a quick swizzle with a bar spoon, crushed ice is filled to the top and packed down so it is level with the top of the tin. Then a snow cone of crushed ice is added to the top and packed in as well. Tap one large mint sprig or two medium sprigs to release the oil and place the garnish at the edge of the glass touching the straw. The effervescent mint aroma is key for the Mint Julep.”

You Can Still Make A Great Mint Julep Without Making Each One Individually

You won’t beat a handmade, made from scratch mint julep, but it is possible to make up a few ingredients ahead of time to make them easier to assemble during a Derby party. A few years back I visited Tim Laird, America’s Chief Entertaining Officer, to learn more about his entertaining tips surrounding the mint julep. If you want a simple mint julep recipe that is still a cut above the typical premade bottled stuff, this is the way to go:

Tim Laird’s “Mint Juleps for Many”

In a chilled julep cup add:

2 ounces Woodford Reserve bourbon

1 ounce Mint Simple Syrup

Crushed ice

Add a sipping straw and garnish with a large mint sprig.
To make the mint simple syrup:

1 part water

1 part sugar

1 part loosely-packed fresh mint leaves

In a saucepan, combine the water and sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  When the water is clear and the sugar is dissolved, remove from the heat and stir in the mint leaves. Let steep for 20 minutes. Strain into a glass container and store in the refrigerator.

Note: You can adjust the sweetness of the drink by adding more or less of the Mint Simple Syrup. The Mint Simple Syrup is also a great addition to iced tea.

The Time To Figure Out Your Derby Party Mint Julep Recipe Is Now

The best pro-tip I can offer here is that you can buy nugget ice by the bag at Sonic drive-ins. Since I have shared this pro tip for years you may want to go ahead of time to make sure they don’t run out on Derby Day.

Take the time to try out a few different recipes, stop by The Silver Dollar to try one there, and even some of the prepackaged stuff – it’s really not as bad as you might expect. Decide how much work you are willing to put into making cocktails on Derby Day – I for one would not mind one bit making every single one from scratch if it meant that my guests learned they’re not supposed to taste like “alcoholic mouthwash.”

“The Mint Julep has been a part of The Kentucky Derby since 1938,” concludes Hoyt, “so it’s become an important part of the event. The Kentucky Derby is a huge event that people come in from around the world for, so Kentucky and Louisville are are associated with The Kentucky Derby and Mint Juleps, even if it’s not during The Kentucky Derby.”

Photos Courtesy of The Silver Dollar and Maggie Kimberl