After a few years of uncertainty, it looks like we’re getting a classic Kentucky Derby in 2022.
The logistics: The 148th running of the classic horse race will be held at Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY, with a start time of 6:57 p.m. But before you put on your biggest and best hat, or dress or (if you’re us) horse-themed bowtie and socks, you’ll want to prep. And no Kentucky Derby party is complete without a mint julep.
For some terribly sad reason, the mint julep is confined to Kentucky Derby weekends — even though it’s a rare brown spirit cocktail perfectly suited for all warm weather days. It’s a damn refreshing cocktail, easy to make and it seems to win over non-whiskey drinkers. It’s also incredibly versatile — there’s no reason you need to confine your julep to a bourbon/simple syrup/mint combo.
You don’t even have to use bourbon. “The original mint julep was actually made with Cognac rather than whiskey,” says Hennessy National Brand Ambassador Jordan Bushnell, who points out that the mint julep was featured as a Cognac cocktail in the seminal Jerry Thomas 1862 Bartenders Guide.
A few years back we asked a few trusted drinking professionals what they use for a mint julep — the base is usually bourbon, but a few of our boozy friends go out of their way to switch out both the spirit and the ingredients. Plus, we offer up an amazing “Chelsea Julep” cocktail that adds in a vanilla mint syrup, watermelon liqueur and white chocolate. Plus, new this year, a simple riff utilizing Cognac.
“After visiting Kentucky a couple of weeks ago and touring the Old Forester distillery in Louisville, I knew St. Jane had to use it for its Kentucky Derby mint juleps. Old Forester was actually the first bottled bourbon and is known as ‘Louisville’s Hometown Bourbon,’ so we brought that tradition to Chicago to create a refreshing, authentic cocktail that even racegoers at Churchill Downs would enjoy.” — George Barrett, Director of Food & Beverage at St. Jane Hotel (Chicago)
“Hennessy V.S.O.P Privilège goes great in our French Julep because the blend’s woody nose pairs very well with this shaken twist. I feel the fruit aspect of Hennessy V.S.O.P comes out when the ginger/green tea and mint are mixed together.” — Juan Arboleda, Bartender at Shoo Shoo (NYC)
“We use George Dickel Rye Whiskey in our variation (called a Mint Sazerac) because it’s carbon filtered, which results in an incredibly smooth whiskey that’s very easy to drink.” — Johnny Swet, mixologist at JIMMY at the James (NYC)
“I blend Weller Reserve Bourbon and Rittenhouse Rye, then infuse it with fresh rosemary and mint. Infusions are a simple technique anyone can employ at home; it adds a lot of herbal flavor and depth. The mint and lemon bring brightness to our Whiskey Smash, a perfectly approachable bourbon cocktail for Derby Day instead of a traditional Mint Julep.” — Lauren Swan-Potras, Head Bartender at Roof at Park South (NYC)
“For mint juleps, I would recommend using the new Balcones Pot Still Bourbon. The Texas heat imparts heavy oak flavors that beautifully balance out the mint and sugar of the julep.” – Mike Raymond, bartender at Reserve 101 (Houston) and judge for Whiskies of the World
“I really like the McKenzie Bourbon from Finger Lakes Distilling. It’s distilled from New York grains. Nice round mouthfeel and finished in NY Chardonnay barrels for a hint of lemon oil and fresh cream. Works great neat or in a julep. Bonus Derby points: The distillery is not too far from the town of Horseheads NY, although closer to track known more for car racing (Watkins Glen Speedway) than for horse racing.” — Nick Venditti, drinks consultant
“The traditional julep is made with Woodford Reserve; for a riff on the classic mint julep, I would recommend a craft, high-proof St. Cloud Kentucky Bourbon. The citrus and apricot notes marry well with the mint and simple syrup.” — Andrea Meriwether, tourism consultant from Bourbon Country
Below, two julep recipes we tried with the team at Maker’s Mark, one classic and one a bit untraditional:
Classic Mint Julep
- 3 parts Maker’s Mark
- ½ part Demerara Simple Syrup
- 6-8 mint leaves
Depending on size, pluck 6-8 mint leaves and toss them into a julep cup. Next add Maker’s Mark and simple syrup into the cup. Gently muddle the mint leaves to release the oils and fragrances into the cocktail. Fill the cup halfway with crushed ice and briefly stir. Fill the cup all the way with ice, insert a metal or paper straw into the cup, garnish with a sprig of mint and enjoy.
- 3 parts Maker’s 46
- ½ part Salted Vanilla Mint Syrup
- A bar spoon of watermelon liqueur
- 1 dash of Angostura
- A pinch of white chocolate and dehydrated mint powder
Combine Maker’s 46, Salted Vanilla Mint Syrup*, watermelon liqueur and Angostura bitters into a julep cup. Fill the cup halfway with crushed ice and stir briefly to incorporate ingredients. After that fill the remainder of the cup with crushed ice so that the ice is packed above the brim of the cup. Garnish with a pinch of grated white chocolate and dehydrated mint powder.
*Salted Vanilla Mint Syrup. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil and remove from heat. Add 1 half of a split vanilla bean pod, 25 grams of plucked mint leaves, 2 grams of Maldon salt, and 6 oz of white sugar. Stir until sugar and salt have dissolved and allow to rest for 15 minutes before straining. Save the strained mint and either bake or dehydrate to make mint powder garnish.
And if you’re interested in a Cognac variation — just like they used to make — here’s a simple one below:
Ferrand Mint Julep
- 2.5 oz Ferrand 1840 Cognac
- 0.5 oz Simple syrup
- 12 Mint leaves, plus more for garnish
Gently muddle mint and syrup in the bottom of the julep cup. Add Cognac. Pack tightly with crushed ice and gently stir until the cup frosts over. Top with a mound of fresh crushed ice and garnish with reserved mint.
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