Mint Julep Cocktail + VIDEO

No other bourbon cocktail is more synonymous with the Southern United States than a classic mint julep. Learn how to make these easy signature cocktails for yourself right at home.

two silver mint julep cups on a wooden background

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It’s probably the one cocktail most synonymous with the South. Demure in stature, its legacy is wound throughout southern culture more tightly than kudzu vines on the side of a highway. I am, of course, talking about the mint julep. While simple to make, there is a strict code you must follow: fresh mint leaves — lightly muddled, crushed ice, and good quality bourbon. The refreshing cocktail is the reason I keep a pot of mint growing on my back porch.

Mint Julep Throughout History

Throughout ancient history, mint has long been employed as a digestive aid to soothe upset stomachs. In the late 1700s, mint julep cocktails were actually prescribed to relieve nausea, indigestion, and vomiting. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon to sip a mint julep alongside the morning meal.

The earliest mentions of mint julep are attributed to Jasper Crouch of Richmond, Virginia. His cocktail was known as a hailstorm or hailstone mint julep because of the use of crushed ice. By the early 19th century, people began to consume the classic cocktail more for social, rather than for medicinal purposes.

It was John Dabney, a slave in West Virginia, that pushed the beloved favorite beverage to the forefront. Dabney worked as a bartender at the Sweet Springs Resort in Sweet Spring, West Virginia. Not only were Dabney’s cocktails delicious, they were garnished with a myriad of fresh fruit, making them visually stunning works of art. His success as a bartender allowed Dabney to purchase freedom for both himself and his wife. Interestingly enough, the recipe was never written down because Dabney could neither read nor write. Rather, the technique was passed down to his son.

Former United States Secretary of State Henry Clay brought the mint julep cocktail recipe to Washington D.C. while he was still serving as United States Senator from Kentucky. From there, the popularity of the classic southern cocktail cocktail spread like wildfire throughout the rest of the country. Mississippi author William Faulkner was known to have a certain technique when making his cocktail. Margaret Mitchell’s character Scarlett O’ Hara from Gone with the Wind describes the scent of mint on her father as she straightens his cravat. Even F. Scott Fitzgerald references the drink in the pages of his famous novel, The Great Gatsby.

Why are mint juleps served at the Kentucky Derby?

While the julep is closely associated with the South, The Kentucky Derby is perhaps the tie that binds. It is said that mint juleps were served at the first race. In fact, it’s rumored that Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr., who built the famous Churchill Downs complex in 1875 where the race is help every year on the first Saturday in May, grew fresh mint out back.

Even though the derby held its inaugural race back in 1875, the mint julep did not become the official drink of the Kentucky Derby until 1939, sixty-four years later. Theft was becoming a problem on derby day – attendees were pilfering water glasses from the event. Instead of fighting a losing battle, the owners decided to turn it into a marketing tactic. The following year, mint juleps were served in souvenir cups.

The signature mint julep silver cup

Churchill Downs President Bill Corum introduced the signature silver julep cups in 1951. History records giving out silver cups as prizes at horse races as far back as the early 1800’s. Corum needed another merchandise hook to sell on race day and the first silver julep cup was made available for sale that year. As crushed ice is piled high inside the gleaming cup, a layer of frost begins to form on the outside of the cup.

Best bourbon for a mint julep

If you are not a bourbon drinker, you may be wondering what type of bourbon to buy for a mint julep. Since proper mint juleps are synonymous with Kentucky, I recommend staying with a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey. But you don’t have to break the bank.

Good bourbon choices include:

  • Woodford Reserve
  • Four Roses
  • Knob Creek
  • Wild Turkey
  • Maker’s Mark

Of course, if you are a bourbon drinker and you have a brand you are partial to, throw all my advice out the window. Go with what you know.

Peppermint or spearmint?

Not all mint is made equal. The difference is the amount of menthol found in each plant. Menthol is what gives mint its “minty” flavor. Peppermint contains 40% menthol, which is great for candies but not so much for a julep. Spearmint contains less than 1% menthol. It’s minty without being overpowering and definitely the right choice here. Look for bright green leaves free of brown spots or holes.

Ingredients and tools you will need

Believe it or not, this classic recipe only requires three ingredients. To make this infamous cocktail, you will need:

collage of classic mint julep recipe ingredients

How to make a traditional mint julep

A classic mint julep contains just a few basic ingredients – fresh mint leaves, a sweetener, bourbon and crushed ice. To start, place about eight fresh mint leaves in the bottom of a glass.

Next, we want to muddle the leaves in the bottom of the glass. That simply means we are mashing the mint leaves against the bottom of the glass, releasing their essential oils. You don’t want to pulverize the leaves into mush. My rule of thumb is to mash them until you start to smell the aroma of mint

muddling the mint leaves in a mint julep cup

Now for the sweetener. Some recipes instruct your to add a sugar cube or powdered sugar. I prefer a mint julep with simple syrup. Equal parts sugar dissolved in equal part water, simple syrup is ideal for sweetening drinks. This video walks you through the steps of how to make your own simple syrup yourself. Add 1/4-ounce of simple syrup and 2 ½ ounces of Kentucky bourbon to the glass.

Crushed ice comes next. You don’t have to have some fancy ice maker to crush your ice for you. If you’re like me and your crushed ice maker doesn’t even work half the time, simply place a decent amount of ice in a plastic freezer bag. Then take a meat mallet, rolling pin, baseball bat, whatever, and beat the crap out of the ice until it’s broken up into little pieces.

Pack the cup with ice and give it a good stir to combine all the ingredients. Then add a little more crushed ice until it’s almost spilling over the top. Garnish with a fresh sprig of mint leaves and a straw.

garnishing a mint julep with a fresh mint sprig

Nonalcoholic mint julep recipe

If you don’t fancy yourself a drinker, but still want to partake in a mint julep, there are a few ingredients you can opt for in lieu of the bourbon. Consider replacing the libations with lemonade, ginger ale, even sweet tea.

Frequently asked questions

What can I do with the leftover simple syrup?

Leftover simple syrup will keep in the refrigerator for up to one month. Just transfer it to an airtight container.

Can I batch this mint julep recipe for a crowd?

Yes. If you are planning a Kentucky Derby Day party and don’t want to spend all your time muddling and mixing boozy cocktails, you can make a large batch of this recipe with some modifications.

The simple syrup recipe linked above is enough to make 48 cocktails. Instead of muddling the leaves in the bottom of each glass, add 1/2 a cup of fresh mint leaves to hot simple syrup right after you remove it from the heat. Don’t add the mint leaves to the liquid while it’s still boiling. Leave the mint leaves to steep in the hot liquid for one hour, the strain and discard the leaves.

In a large container, mix 2 1/2 ounces of simple syrup with 3 cups of bourbon. Cover and let the mixture chill completely in the refrigerator. Fill each cup with crushed ice, pour 2 3/4 ounces of the cocktail mix over the ice. This recipe will make 10 cocktails. Plan on serving at least two cocktails per guest.

Do I have to use bourbon?

While bourbon is traditional, you can certainly experiment with other spirits. You can try gin, rye whiskey, brandy, cognac, or another spirit of choice.

two silver mint julep cups on a wooden background
two silver mint julep cups on a wooden background
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5 from 1 vote

Mint Julep Cocktail

No other cocktail is more synonymous with the South than a classic mint julep. Learn how to make this easy cocktail for yourself right at home.
Course Beverages
Cuisine American
Servings 1 cocktail
Calories 199kcal
Author Lisa B.


  • 8 mint leaves
  • 1/4 ounce simple syrup
  • 2 1/2 ounces bourbon


  • In a Julep cup or rocks glass, lightly muddle the mint leaves against the bottom of the glass until the leaves start to release their scent.
  • Add the bourbon and simple syrup, then pack the glass tightly with crushed ice.
  • Stir until the cup is frosted on the outside.
  • Top with more crushed ice to form an ice dome, and garnish with a mint sprig and a few drops of bitters (optional).



Serving: 1cocktail | Calories: 199kcal | Carbohydrates: 6.6g | Protein: 0.1g | Sodium: 1mg | Potassium: 15mg | Fiber: 0.2g | Sugar: 6.3g

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