Every first Saturday in May, people in Kentucky pull out their julep cups and make Mint Juleps. For those who follow my blog on a regular basis, you know that I believe that a good mint julep should taste of Bourbon with just a hint of mint. The secret is to use a good Bourbon and just a hint of mint that compliments the Bourbon and not overpower it. The Bourbon needs to be of a robust flavor for this to happen. And since it is being made for the Kentucky Derby, I believe it should be a Kentucky Straight Bourbon. 

I have picked five very good bourbons that I think will make a good mint julep for your Kentucky Derby party. I picked these Bourbons because of their robust flavors and availability in the stores. I also picked Bourbons that are at least 100 proof. There is enough crushed ice in the cocktail that the Bourbon is quickly watered down and lower proof Bourbons quickly become too watery and thin in taste. Here is my list in alphabetical order.

  1. Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond: This bourbon has a robust flavor with some fruit notes and spice that goes well with mint. It is easily found in most markets in the United States at reasonable price. Westport Whiskey & Wine sells this Bourbon at $18.99 for a 750ml.
  2. Four Roses Single Barrel: This Bourbon is also 100 proof and has a spicy note that balances the sweetness of the mint and simple syrup. It is easily found in most markets. It is a bit more expensive, but worth it for a good mint julep. Westport Whiskey & Wine sells it for $46.99 for a 750 ml.
  3. Old Forester 100 proof: This is a Bourbon that for many years was associated with making mint juleps at Derby parties in Louisville. It has a robust flavor with fruit notes and spice that hold their own in a mint julep. It is easily found in most markets and is inexpensive. Westport Whiskey & Wine sells it for $24.99 for a 750ml, but a 1.75 liter is only $41.35, so feel free to make a lot of mint juleps at your party.
  4. Old Grand Dad Bottled-in-Bond: This Bourbon is also robust in flavor with fruit and spice notes that go well in a julep. It is easy to find in most markets and not expensive. To take it to the next level, get the Old Grand Dad 144 proof. Westport Whiskey & Wine sells the bonded version at $25.99 and the 114 version at 33.99, both being 750ml bottles.
  5. Wild Turkey 101: This Bourbon has many earthy notes of leather and oak with a spiciness that works well with the mint in a julep. It is easy to find and inexpensive. Westport Whiskey & Wine sells it at $16,99 for a 750, but for large parties, the 1.75 liter bottle is only 37.83.

These are all traditional Bourbons made with rye as the flavoring grain. I find Bourbons made with wheat are too soft in flavor and quickly are overpowered by the mint. There are other great options for Bourbons made in Kentucky, but they might be harder to find outside of Kentucky. Michter’s barrel strength Bourbon, Peerless Bourbon, and Wilderness Trail traditional Bourbon come to mind as good alternatives if you can find them. 

Derby parties are a tradition in Kentucky and the mint julep is a large part of that tradition. When serving your guest a mint julep, make it a good one, made with a good Bourbon. It does not need to cost a lot of money to get a good Bourbon and your guests will thank you for making a julep they can drink that tastes of Bourbon with only a hint of mint.

Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller