(Note: this post was originally published on April 23, 2020. The date above reflects migration to the new platform.)
As we move deeper into spring, it's undoubtedly becoming the season of the mint julep. This classic bourbon cocktail is boozy, a touch sweet, loaded with fresh mint, and so elegant. If there's one cocktail to master this spring and summer, this is it! My goal with this post is to cover the basics first, then move on to some fun variations. I hope this will give you some ideas for your own variations too!
I find that mint juleps are super versatile. They go great with anything on the grill, so they're a perfect cocktail to serve at an outdoor get-together. The mint also helps them work nicely with dishes that have fresh herbs, like summer salads. I'd happily pair a mint julep with this Watermelon, Snap Pea, and Feta Salad, this Grilled Corn, Strawberry, and Avocado Salad, or of course this Mint Julep Quinoa Salad.
Bourbon is obviously the key ingredient here, so don't skimp! This isn't the place for bottom-shelf bourbon, since there are no juices, bitters, or liqueurs to soften it. Although likewise, this isn't necessarily the place for your rare sipping bourbon either. My usual preference is a solid middle shelf bourbon like Knob Creek, Bulleit, or Buffalo Trace. And while bourbon is the classic approach, a mint julep can also work nicely with rye.
What type of ice should you serve your julep on? It's a controversial question! A julep is sometimes served over a few rocks, and sometimes over crushed ice. The former is my preference since the bourbon doesn't become diluted as quickly, but the latter is the more traditional Kentucky Derby approach. I say do what works for you! If you're a big bourbon fan, a few rocks might be preferable; if you're a bourbon newbie, crushed ice will give you a more approachable drink. The only time I use crushed ice is on a really hot day!
Let's start at the beginning: the classic mint julep. It's easy to make, so fresh, and is a perfect way to transition bourbon to the warmer months. You can vary the amount of bourbon as well as the sweetness, so you have a lot of control to cater to different tastes. Here's how to do it.
This is how we make them most frequently at home! In this version, I use maple syrup in place of granulated sugar. Using maple syrup provides lovely additional flavor, and I'm always excited to use a local product rather than one from afar. Bonus points for garnishing with a maple sugar candy! And if you're feeling like a high-roller, use Whistlepig (which is actually a rye, but it's one of Vermont's most well-known and delightful distilled products).
This version is fun, fruity, and super summery. You'll just muddle some strawberries into the cocktail and garnish with a couple fresh strawberries. This is a great way to make a julep feel a little bit lighter (and perhaps more accessible to bourbon newbies!). As written, I suggest making the drink in a cocktail stirring glass and straining it so that you can remove the strawberry pulp, but feel free to make this right in the serving glass if you don't mind the pulp.
Another fruity julep, this one is perfect for late summer and has such southern vibes! You'll omit (or reduce) the sweetener, and instead use half an ounce of peach schnapps. Similar to the recipe above, I suggest making the drink in a cocktail stirring glass and straining it so that you can remove the peach pulp, but feel free to make this right in the serving glass if you don't mind the pulp. Or, take the lazy way out and don't worry about muddling in fresh peaches; just use peach schnapps!
This seductive julep riff incorporates Luxardo cherry liqueur, which is delightfully earthy and complex. This may be my favorite of all since I'm enamored with the combination of whiskey and Luxardo (see also my Cherry Chai Manhattan!). It works great from late summer and even into fall since the Luxardo makes it feel a bit cozy. Back off the sweetener a bit because the Luxardo has some sweetness to it.
I adore the combination of honey and mint, and it's just so summery! For this version, I use local honey in place of the sugar. Start with less than you think you need, since honey is actually sweeter than maple syrup. Garnish with a piece of honeycomb for extra flair and for a delightful, drippy treat! Although decidedly non-traditional, I sometimes make these with a honey-based distilled product, such as this gorgeous, aged honey spirit from Domeloz. Thank you, bees!
One final thought. If you have mint growing in your yard, you know that it can easily get out of control and take over everything. Drinking mint juleps is our preferred way to keep our mint in check, it's much more peaceful than trying to pull it out by the roots. So cheers to summer, and cheers to doing your duty to protect the yard from mint.
It makes me so happy to hear from you and see your creations! Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think about this recipe. If you post a photo on Instagram, hashtag #TheRogueBrusselSprout and tag me (@TheRogueBrusselSprout) in the post text so that I'm sure to see it.
An iconic summer drink, the mint julep is a favorite in our house. Check out all these fun variations to keep this classic cocktail fresh and exciting all summer long!
Have a look around at some of my favorite recipes! I can't wait to see what you create.