Four variations on the classic cocktail.

By Molly McArdle
March 01, 2017
Courtesy of Slowly Shirley

The official drink of the Kentucky Derby since 1938, a mint julep has four ingredients: mint, simple syrup, bourbon, and crushed ice—served in a shiny, cold, metal cup. (It helps slow the ice from melting.‚

In their book, “The Twelve Bottle Bar,” David and Lesley Jacobs Solmonson trace the julep back to the Persian word “gulab,” or rose water. The first mint julep, described as “a dram of spirituous liquor that has mint steeped in it,” was spotted by Englishman John Davis in his 1803 travelogue to Virginia.

Now long associated with Kentucky, the mint julep is inextricable with the state’s famous bourbon, and its most famous sporting event. At Churchill Downs, home to the legendary horse race, nearly 120,000 mint juleps are served Derby weekend. That requires 60,000 pounds of ice, 10,000 bottles of Old Forester cocktail mix, and 1,000 pounds of mint.

Travel + Leisure spoke with some of our favorite bartenders around the country and the world about their takes on this iconic cocktail.

Orange Blossom Special Julep

By Michael Florence, of Middle Fork Kitchen Bar in Lexington, Kentucky.

Cocktail Ingredients

2 oz. bourbon
1 oz. of strawberry/orange blossom shrub
Small bunch fresh mint for garnish

Shrub Ingredients

1 cup of cut strawberries
1/2 cup cane sugar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. orange blossom water

1. Combine strawberries, sugar, vinegar, and orange blossom water in mason jar and shake until well integrated. Let soak for about 24 hours.

2. Combine bourbon & shrub with one ice cube and whip shake (aka, shake hard in a cocktail mixer) until the ice cube is gone.

3. Pour over crushed or pebble ice in a julep cup or double old fashioned glass.

4. Garnish with fresh mint.

Julep du Monde

By Nick Bennett of Porchlight in New York, New York.

Courtesy of Porchlight

Cocktail Ingredients

1 1/2 oz. Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon
1/2 oz. chicory-infused Meletti
1/2 oz. vanilla simple syrup
4 dashes mole bitters
Small bunch fresh mint for garnish

Syrup Ingredients

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1. Bring sugar and water to boil and stir until sugar is dissolved. Cool completely, then stir in vanilla.

2. Combine bourbon, Meletti, syrup, and bitters in a julep tin and add pebble ice. Swizzle to mix and dilute.

3. Top with pebble ice to form a mound.

4. Garnish with fresh mint.


By Jim Kearns of Slowly Shirley in New York, New York.

Cocktail Ingredients

1/4 oz. brown sugar syrup
2 1/4 oz. pineapple-infused Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon
7 mint sprigs
1/4 oz. Cruzan Blackstrap Rum

Syrup Ingredients

2 cups brown sugar
1 cup water

Bourbon Infusion Ingredients

750 ml bottle of Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon
1 pineapple

1. Combine sugar and water for syrup, stir over low heat, until sugar is dissolved.

2. Remove skin and cut pineapple into cubes, approximately 1" wide. Combine pineapple with bourbon; infuse for at least 24 hours. More is better.

3. Combine brown sugar syrup, the leaves of two mint sprigs, and pineapple-infused bourbon in a large shaker tin and muddle.

4. Strain into a chilled julep glass.

5. Top with a generous amount of crushed ice.

6. Top with Blackstrap rum.

7. Garnish lavishly with mint.

Ginger Julep

From Irene at the Hotel Savoy in Florence, Italy.

Cocktail Ingredients

2 oz. aged bourbon
Cinnamon bitters
Small bunch fresh mint
Ginger beer
A thin slice of fresh ginger, for garnish
1 inch peeled, grated fresh ginger

1. Combine grated fresh ginger with water to fill up an ice tray for ginger-flavored cubes. Freeze.

2. Combine bourbon, cinnamon bitters, two fresh mint leaves, and ginger-flavored ice in a frozen old fashioned glass

3. Top with ginger beer and garnish with remaining mint and sliced fresh ginger.