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Kentucky Mint Juleps: The Ultimate Recipe

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mint julep cocktail

This quintessential Kentucky Derby drink is simple in its list of ingredients but complex in its execution. Here’s how to do it right!

Bourbon is the quintessential American whiskey and the drink of choice of many of the best pitmasters in the south. Made from at least 51% corn, and especially when made, filtered and aged in Kentucky, bourbon can rival the world’s finest Cognacs in richness, depth, and complexity.

Mint, on the other hand, is a weed. Plant some now and you’ll be engulfed by it in two years. There are many types, so go to the plant store and pinch a few leaves to see what you like best. The two main types, spearmint and peppermint, both work well in mint juleps. Pick the one you like the best. Or pick two.

By the time the Kentucky Derby rolls around on the first weekend in May, mint is ready to pick, even in harsher climes, and it flourishes all summer long sporting lovely lavender flowers by midsummer.

The refreshing mint julep cocktail became the official drink of the Derby in 1938 and was served in water glasses. According to the Derby Museum at Churchill Downs in Louisville, the glasses disappeared from the track dining room. So management started charging 25¢ per glass and the most popular race souvenir was born. They are collector’s items and older glasses command hundreds of dollars on eBay. By 2010 the production run was up to 700,000 and they can be bought in stores. Sterling Silver Julep Cups were introduced in 1951 and they play an important role in Derby lore. Traditionally, the governor of Kentucky salutes the victorious Derby owner with a toast at the fashionable Winner’s Party following the race. The official silver cups sell for $750 on their website. You can order unofficial mint julep cups on Amazon for much less and read more about the drink in the book The Kentucky Mint Julep by Colonel Joe Nickel.

Recipes for Mint Juleps vary only a little. Some use simple syrup, some use granulated sugar to help muddle the mint. Some useAngosture bitters others use orange or other exotic new bitters. Ther’s no reason why it can’t be made with Scotch or Dark rum, but Bourbon and Rye are traditional.

My wife and I always watch the Derby with a mint julep in hand. Tell us about your Derby traditions.

Classic Mint Julep Recipe

Mint julep
Tried this recipe?Tell others what you thought of it and give it a star rating below.
3.25 from 36 votes
When properly prepared, this Kentucky Derby staple is arguably one of summer's most refreshing cocktails.
Serve with: canapés.

difficulty scale


Servings: 1 12-ounce/355-ml drink


Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes


  • 10 mint leaves
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, more or less to taste
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • 2 ounces clean fresh spring water or seltzer water to liven it up
  • 3 ounces Kentucky Bourbon
  • Crushed ice
  • 1 sprig of mint for garnish
About the Bourbon. There are so many great new Bourbons and Ryes on the market in the past decade. Knob Creek Bourbon is my standard affordable sippin' whiskey, but no way I'm mixing it with sugar and mint. For this recipe, the mint is the star, so I use an inexpensive bourbon like regular Jim Beam.
About the mint. Be sure to remove the stems and the large central vein which can be bitter. Leaves only, please.
About the bitters. Have some fun and use orange bitters.
Metric conversion:

These recipes were created in US Customary measurements and the conversion to metric is being done by calculations. They should be accurate, but it is possible there could be an error. If you find one, please let us know in the comments at the bottom of the page


  • Prep. Rinse the mint leaves to make sure any dirt splashed on the underside of the leaves is gone. Don't dry them. The moisture from the rinse is helpful in making the drink. Pluck the leaves off the stems.
  • Muddle. Put the leaves in a 12-ounce (355-mL) cocktail glass and pour the sugar on top. Add the bitters. Muddle them together gently with a muddler or the handle of a wooden spoon. When the leaves and sugar begin to turn a little mushy, add the water and the bourbon, and stir with a fork until the sugar dissolves.
  • Serve. Top with crushed ice, garnish with the sprig of mint, add a straw, and you're off!

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Published On: 2/3/2013 Last Modified: 5/5/2024

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  • Meathead, Founder And BBQ Hall of Famer - Founder and publisher of, Meathead is known as the site's Hedonism Evangelist and BBQ Whisperer. He is also the author of the New York Times Best Seller "Meathead, The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling", and is a BBQ Hall Of Fame inductee.


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