May 30th is National Mint Julep Day. A Mint Julep—most famous today as the official* cocktail of the Kentucky Derby—is made with spearmint, bourbon, sugar and water, served in a cup packed with crushed ice. It’s similar to a Mojito, but substitutes bourbon for rum.
Traditionally, mint juleps are served in silver or pewter cups (photo #1).
The fresh mint leaves are used very lightly bruised to release more of their aroma and flavor.
A tip to keep mint or any fresh herb last longer: Trim a bit off the ends of the stems and place the herbs in a glass of water. Cover with a plastic bag and keep in the fridge.
The original Mint Julep from the American South was made with bourbon or with genever†, aged gin.
Today the gin has disappeared as an option; but you can revive it, genever, gin or any favorite spirit.
Sure, bourbon may be first in your mind; but you can also make a gin julep, a rum julep, a scotch julep, a tequila julep, or a whatever-you-want julep.
So go back to the original genever, use English dry gin, keep the bourbon, or use another spirit. The choice is yours.
“Julep” is a Middle English term for a sweet drink. The word is derived from the Arabic gulab, pronounced julab, which refers to a rose petals steeped in water (which can be drunk or used for other purposes).
The term julep first appeared in English sometime between 1350 and 1400 C.E.
The Mint Julep cocktail originated in the American South in the 18th century, where it was made with bourbon or with genever. Genever is aged gin—the original gin, a rich distillation that’s more like a flavored whiskey than the more familiar English dry gin.
The gentry served their mint juleps in silver or pewter cups (photo #1). However, few of us have the space to keep a collection of julep cups, so any tall glass is fine.
You can also serve a “short” Julep in a rocks glass (photo #4).
For a party, you can set up a Julep Bar and let everyone create his or her own. Here’s what you need:
Ingredients Per Drink
1. COMBINE all ingredients but the garnish in a shaker with ice. Shake briefly and strain over over crushed ice in a collins glass or other tall glass.
*The proclaimed (by Churchill Downs) “Official Drink of the Kentucky Derby” is the Old Forester Mint Julep, made with the Old Forester brand of bourbon. A straight bourbon whiskey now produced by the Brown–Forman Corporation, it has been on the market continuously for longer than any other bourbon, and was the first bourbon sold exclusively in sealed bottles. It is a 60 proof bottling—lower than conventional 80-proof bottlings. Here’s the exact recipe used at Churchill Downs.
†Genever, the original gin, is aged, unlike London dry gin. It was first made in Holland in a pot still, from a grain mash of barley, rye and corn. There are two styles: Oude (old), which has a golden tint and a sweet, aromatic flavor; and Jonge (young), which is drier and has a lighter body. Overall, it is heavy-bodied and strongly flavored, with a pronounced malty taste and aroma. This style is popular in The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. Here are the different types of gin.
††A tablespoon is equal to 3 teaspoons. A half tablespoon is equal to 1-1/2 teaspoons. Personally, we prefer the half tablespoon for a slightly-less-sweet drink. TIP: Keep the spoons in a glass of water to minimize the sticky drippings.