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Classic Mint Julep Muddled with Sugar

5 stars (2 ratings)

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Refreshing, minty, and packing a bourbon punch, the classic mint julep cocktail is a must for anyone who loves bourbon, the South, or the Kentucky Derby. This iconic cocktail calls for muddling fresh mint with granulated white sugar to create that sweet, oaky, minty cocktail that is as unique as it is delicious. It’s a timeless classic for good reason.

A mint julep in a silver mint julep cup with sprigs of mint and a decanter of bourbon in the background.

A Classic Bourbon Cocktail

Bracingly strong and with a hint of sweetness, the mint julep is a Southern classic dating back to the 18th century and famous for its ties to the Kentucky Derby. Their formal association as the official drink of the Kentucky Derby began in 1940 when Churchill Downs launched the collectible glasses.

Traditionally served in silver mint julep cups or 8 – 12 ounce highball glasses, the classic julep is a bourbon-based drink made with a muddler and served over crushed ice. Its twin, the easy mint julep, is a version made with mint simple syrup that is a little easier to make for derby parties. Regardless of which you choose, the mint julep is minty, strong, and refreshing.

This tasty cocktail is delicious any time of the year, but I especially like it in the spring and summer when I can gather the mint from the garden outside my window. Be warned: this cocktail is small but mighty! It packs a punch and can sneak up on you.

Mint Julep Ingredients

Simple cocktails have simple ingredient lists and this mint julep recipe is no exception. You don’t need much, and while I prefer Kentucky bourbon, any bourbon will do – just don’t tell my Kentucky friends I told you that!

Ingredients for a classic mint julep.
Ingredients for a classic mint julep: white granulated sugar, fresh mint sprigs, bourbon, crushed ice.

Kentucky Bourbon is the Best Bourbon For Mint Juleps

The most important thing to remember when picking a bourbon is that there isn’t a lot going on in this concoction. The bourbon flavors are very prominent, so choose the one you like. As the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby, Woodford Reserve is a solid choice. Personally, I’m a fan of Four Roses. Being a Kentucky girl at heart, my bourbon cocktails require Kentucky bourbon.

How To Crush Ice

The key to a classic mint julep is the balance between water from the melted ice and bourbon. Using crushed or shaved ice allows it to melt more quickly and achieve that perfect bourbon-to-water ratio faster.

If you have an ice dispenser with a crushed ice option, you are in luck. Alternatively, high-end blenders and food processors can make quick work of crushing ice at home. If you don’t have any of the above, place ice cubes in a double-lined zip-top bag, cover it with a kitchen towel and crush the cubes with a wooden mallet. The results won’t be as even, but it works.

Classic Mint Juleps Need Sugar

As a classic mint julep, this recipe calls for granulated sugar. As the sugar dissolves, the grit helps to break up the mint leaves and extract the flavor in a way you’ll never achieve in a simple syrup version. It takes a little more effort, but the flavor is worth it; trust me!

Mint julep bar with a muddler, sugar cellar, bowl of crushed ice, sprigs of mint, a decanter of bourbon, and a finished mint julep.

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For this mint julep cocktail, you’ll also need:

  • Mint Julep cup – Or an 8 – 12 ounce tall glass.
  • Muddler – Any muddler that’ll fit in the bottom of the glass will suffice.
  • Mixing spoon – The long handle makes it easier to mix it completely.

Why are Mint Juleps Served in Julep Cups?

Mint juleps, like Moscow mules, are fancy enough to warrant their own glasses. The classic mint julep cup is silver with a row of beading around the top. Being metal, it will help keep your drink cold as you sip it, but it’s also going to frost up on the outside and possibly freeze your hand. Admittedly, it feels fancy to drink a mint julep out of one of these cups, but don’t fret if you don’t have one.

The next best thing is a highball glass, but I’ve also made them in a Collins glass, a rocks glass, a double old-fashioned glass, or, when desperate, a pint glass. Any glass that holds between 8 – 12 ounces and is wide enough to fit your muddler at the bottom will serve the purpose.

How To Make A Classic Mint Julep Cocktail

This Mint Julep recipe makes one cocktail, which, for many of us, is enough! It only takes a few minutes to put it together, which gives you plenty of time to savor its flavor slowly.

  • Tear the mint leaves in half and place them in the bottom of the glass.
  • Add the sugar and a few chunks of crushed ice. 
  • Muddle the mint and sugar together to break up the mint and release the flavor.
  • Fill the glass about ¾ full with ice, add bourbon and stir until the glass begins to frost.
  • Top up the glass with more crushed ice and garnish with a fresh mint sprig.
A mint julep in a silver cup next to a single white rose with a mint julep bar in the background.

Tips For Success

As with any delicious cocktail, there are always a few tips to share to make your experience with them great from the beginning. Here are a few of my favorites.

  • Use fresh mint. – Most grocery stores carry fresh mint year-round, and it can be found in the produce section. Alternatively, you can pick up a mint plant at your local garden shop. Just don’t plant it directly in the ground or it will spread like an invasive weed.
  • No substitutions. – With a recipe this simple, once you start adding extras it fundamentally changes the recipe. If you start adding berries and club soda or swapping the mint for other herbs, you may end up with a raspberry mojito. It’s a delicious adult beverage, but it’s no longer a mint julep.
  • Make them as you drink them. – Made for a hot day, the melting ice will keep your drink cold and water down your bourbon as you sip it, which may just be enough to keep you out of trouble. Making them in advance will just water them down before you are ready to drink them.

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A mint julep in a silver mint julep cup with sprigs of mint and a decanter of bourbon in the background.

Classic Mint Julep Muddled with Sugar

Refreshing, minty, and packing a bourbon punch, the classic mint julep cocktail is a must for anyone who loves bourbon, the South, or the Kentucky Derby. This iconic cocktail calls for muddling fresh mint with granulated white sugar to create that sweet, oaky, minty cocktail that is as unique as it is delicious. It's a timeless classic for good reason.
5 stars (2 ratings)
prep: 5 minutes
total: 5 minutes
servings: 1 cocktail

Ingredients

  • 3 – 4 fresh mint leaves
  • 10 – 12 ounces crushed ice
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 2 ounces Kentucky bourbon

Instructions

  • Tear the mint leaves in half and place in the bottom of the glass.
  • Add the sugar and a few chunks of crushed ice on top, then muddle it all together to break up the mint and release the oils.
  • Add ice to fill the glass 3/4 of the way, add the bourbon, then stir until the glass begins to frost up and condensation forms on the outside.
  • Top with more ice and an additional spring of mint. Serve immediately.

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Nutrition

Serving: 1Calories: 165kcalCarbohydrates: 8gProtein: 2gSodium: 50mgFiber: 3gSugar: 4g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated and is for general information purposes only. For the most accurate information, calculate using your select brands and exact measurements.

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About Renee N Gardner

I'm the recipe developer, food photographer, and mastermind behind Renee Nicole's Kitchen, where I help create kitchen confidence to inspire home cooks to become home chefs. No fancy fads here, just high-quality, homemade recipes featuring seasonal ingredients.

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