Derby Day is upon us! Once you’ve found the perfect Derby hat or seersucker suit, it’s time to tackle another Churchill Downs staple: the Mint Julep.
This classic Kentucky drink seems simple, but a few simple changes will take your julep from basic to best-ever. Here’s how to kick it up this year.
Find the right mint: Any type of spearmint will yield a delicious cocktail, but Churchill Downs officially sanctions the “Kentucky Colonel” variety in its Derby Day drinks. Check your local farmers’ market for live plants or herb bunches.
Flavor up your simple syrup: Making simple syrup is, in a word, simple. For a basic variety, combine equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan, then cook over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved completely. Add more flavor to the mix by adding chopped mint leaves before you heat. Once the sugar is dissolved, strain the mixture and refrigerate until ready to use.
Muddle, muddle, muddle: Muddling the mint in the bottom of the glass helps release the oils in the herb, yielding a more flavorful cocktail. No muddler in your kitchen? Use the handle of a wooden spoon or a chopstick.
Pick the right spirits: This is where personal preference comes in. Bourbons are typically made from rye or wheat, with the rye varieties having a spicier bite and the wheat varieties developing a smoother, sweeter finish. (Read more about the best bourbons for mint juleps here.) The sweeter (wheat) varieties, especially those on the younger side (read: aged 5 years or less) tend to work well for this type of drink. For tradition’s sake, it’s always a good idea to select a bourbon made in Kentucky for this cocktail.
Make better ice cubes: Freeze distilled water for perfectly clear ice cubes that won’t affect the flavor of your cocktail as they melt. Crush the ice in the blender and fill your cups halfway with ice before stirring up your drinks.
Get the right serving gear: Silver julep cups are most traditional — the best versions have a copper core to keep the drink frosty as you sip. No julep cups? Serve in a highball glass.
Make juleps for a crowd: To make this drink for a group, set out an ice bucket filled with crushed ice, a carafe full of mint simple syrup, fresh mint leaves, and the bourbon of your choice. Write out your mint julep recipe on a card or chalkboard to empower guests to be their own bartender.
Save your simple syrup: Celebrating derby day solo? Keep your mint simple syrup fresh for the next spring cocktail. Try this tip from our friends over at DIY Network’s Made + Remade: Add a little vodka. It doesn’t affect the taste, and will help prolong its life in the fridge.
What are your tips for better mint juleps? Leave your bar advice in the comments below.