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Kentucky Derby Mint Julep Bar

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Celebrate the arrival of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs with a Kentucky Derby Mint Julep Bar! Here is everything you need to set up a DIY cocktail bar featuring handcrafted and homemade mint juleps. This year you can entertain your friends and family in style!

An easy mint julep in a silver julep cup in front of the set up for a Kentucky Derby mint julep bar.

Derby Day Parties

I grew up in Kentucky, so the first Saturday in May is always a special day for me: Derby Day! I still tune into Churchill Downs to watch the Derby, the “most exciting two minutes in sports,” and I love to entertain with as much fanfare as possible. 

That means having mint juleps on hand. For a Derby Party, I’ll even go all out with a Kentucky Derby Mint Julep Bar for my guests. Stock your bar with all the essentials for easy-to-make mint juleps and let your guests serve themselves. Dust off your Derby hat and pour yourself a Mint Julep. It’s Derby Time!

The set up for a Kentucky Derby Mint Julep bar on a silver tray. Mint, mint simple syrup, ice, bourbon, and julep cups.

What Is a Mint Julep

A mint julep is a classic cocktail made from mint, sugar, bourbon, and crushed ice. It’s the official drink for the Kentucky Derby, which is why traditionalists use only Kentucky bourbon in their mint juleps. While there are only four ingredients, there are two different ways to make a mint julep: the classic method uses simple syrup and fresh mint, and the easy method features a mint-infused simple syrup.

A Classic Mint Julep Recipe

My classic mint julep recipe is great for when you are getting fancy. This version uses granulated sugar and a muddler to muddle and extract the flavor from the mint leaves. Since it’s a bit more labor intensive, it’s best for when you are making just a few juleps or celebrating with traditionalists.

An Easy Mint Julep

An easy mint julep – or rather an easier mint julep – is made with mint simple syrup, which turns it from a muddled extraction worthy of a mixologist into a simple pour, stir, and-serve cocktail that anyone can make. It may not save you a lot of time, but it will save you mess and give your guests more consistent results julep after julep. Also, you can crush the ice and make the simple syrup in advance. This is the version I use when setting up my mint julep bar.

A mint julep in a silver mint julep cup in front of a silver platter holding mint julep supplies.

How To Set Up A Kentucky Derby Mint Julep Bar

Sure, you can mix and pour mint juleps in small batches or even one cocktail at a time, but if you have company, let them get in on the action by setting up a mint julep bar. Designate a section of your table and ensure you have a bar towel or two nearby for wiping up messes and dealing with condensation. Layout your julep ingredients and necessary bar supplies, so your guests can help themselves.

Mint Julep Ingredients

The ingredients you will need for your bar depends on which type of julep you want to serve, classic or easy. If you are feeling very nontraditional, you can include ingredients to make a blackberry bourbon smash too, which is a cross between a julep and a blackberry mojito.

  • Kentucky bourbon – Now is the time to use the good stuff! A 750 ml bottle will make around 12 cocktails. Plan for 2 cocktails per person, and allow for a couple of extras, too. You can go for Woodford Reserve, the official bourbon of the KY Derby, or choose the brand you prefer. Don’t put it all out at once, but if you are using multiple brands give you your guests options.
  • Fresh mint sprigs – The mint infuses that iconic julep flavor into our cocktail, acts as garnish, and is used to make the mint simple syrup, if you are going that route. I usually grab 2 – 3 bunches, unbind them and place them in vases of water, like a bouquet of flowers, to keep them fresh.
  • Mint simple syrup or white granulated sugar – Again, it depends on which recipe you choose. Either the sugar will go into the simple syrup or you’ll need it at the bar for making each cocktail. Make the simple syrup a couple of hours in advance or even the night before if possible. It works best when cold, but can safely be set at room temperature for the duration of the party. If using sugar, put it in a bowl with small spoons for serving.
  • Crushed ice – You’ll need 1 – 2 cups of crushed ice per cocktail, which can quickly add up. Plan to crush the ice in advance and see my tips below for crushing it at home. You may want to fill an ice bucket with enough for a few drinks and leave the rest in the freezer until you need it.

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  • Mint julep cups – If you don’t have classic silver julep cups, use highball glasses that hold 8-12 ounces. Whether you choose metal, glass, or plastic is up to you, as you know your guests best. Red solo cups totally work for a rowdy crowd.
  • Straws – Compostable or reusable straws or stir sticks for mixing drinks.
  • A Jigger or measuring cup – To measure the bourbon in 2 ounces or ¼ cup measures. You could even use a spare shot glass and mark the measurement with a sharpie.
  • Measuring spoon – You’ll need spoons to measure the simple syrup or sugar for your juleps.
  • Ice bucket with scoop or tongs – To keep the ice cold. Remember to keep most of the ice in the freezer so that it’s ready when you need it.
Crushed ice in a double lined plastic bag.

How To Make Crushed Ice

Crushed ice is the key to making a great mint julep cocktail, and making crushed ice at home is easy. Food processors and high-powered blenders make crushing ice a breeze. Many of us have ice dispensers built into our fridges with a crushed ice option. If you have neither, you can use plastic bags wrapped in kitchen towels and a wooden mallet or muddler to crush your ice. 

Whatever method you choose, crush it in advance and promptly return it to the freezer. It may solidify a bit, but it should break up again easily. Just bang it against the counter or other hard surfaces like a bag of store-bought ice.

A finished mint julep in front of a silver tray set up with all you need to make a Kentucky Derby mint julep bar.

Tips For Success

When setting up your cocktail bar for the first time, it’s easy to overlook a few minor details. These are the things you won’t want to miss to keep things running smoothly.

  • Have a clean glass of water handy on your mint julep bar to hold the measuring spoon for the simple syrup to keep the area from getting messy and sticky.
  • Have enough ice – if you’re serving other drinks, that ice will disappear quickly. Have plenty of crushed ice on hand and keep the extra in the freezer for refills.
  • Don’t underestimate the amount of bourbon you’ll need. 2 ounces per drink at 1.5 drinks per guest per hour is a standard measure. A standard 750 ml bottle holds about 25 ounces. You can always send guests home with leftovers, but you don’t want to run out of bourbon in the middle of your party.
  • First-time mint julep makers or those who simply prefer sweet drinks will double or triple the amount of mint simple syrup, so it’s best to double the recipe, so you have enough.
  • Post instructions at the bar so your guests know what to do. Don’t forget to tell them to garnish their cocktail with a fresh mint sprig.
An easy mint julep in a silver julep cup in front of the set up for a Kentucky Derby mint julep bar.
5 stars (3 ratings)

Easy Mint Julep with Mint Simple Syrup

This easy mint julep made with mint-infused simple syrup is the perfect way to whip up mint juleps for a crowd. These handcrafted cocktails mix up in about 3 minutes and pack a powerful bourbon punch with a sweet hint of mint. A deliciously refreshing cocktail perfect for a hot summer day.
Get the Recipe
A mint julep in a silver mint julep cup with sprigs of mint and a decanter of bourbon in the background.
5 stars (2 ratings)

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.
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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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