The mint julep has been the official beverage of the Kentucky Derby since 1938, and for most people, Derby weekend will be the only time of the year it’s on the mind. That’s a shame. Because as delicious as they are watching horses run around a track, they’re equally refreshing on a random summer afternoon.
As far as cocktails go, the mint julep is reasonably idiot-proof — simply mix water, sugar, bourbon and mint over crushed ice. It’s also very booze-forward, meaning the bourbon you use determines almost everything about the drink. So, which bottle is best? Five pros weigh in.
“For me, Maker’s Mark is the perfect bourbon to make juleps because of its wheated mash bill, which gives it a natural depth that complements the mint and sugar perfectly. Plus at 90 proof, you can have more than one. Just make sure your mint is fresh and your bourbon supply is rich.” — Kristina Magro, Sportsman’s Club, Chicago, IL
“[Koval] is a brand that, as a Chicagoan, I stand behind — not just because of the quality but because of the people behind the quality. It was the first Chicago distillery to be founded since the 1800’s. The family uses organic processes and ingredients and micromanages the distilling process, showing their passion for quality and a commitment to excellence. Koval translates to ‘black sheep’ which is a perception of others in the industry that they fully embrace.” — Jeff Shull, Baptiste & Bottle, Chicago, IL
Old Forester Single Barrel
“Old Forester is such a workhorse bourbon for the quality and the price, especially the Single Barrel. The rich burnt-sugar character of the bourbon balances really well with the mint and sugar but also has a lot of character for a spirit-forward cocktail. Also, their master distiller is an avid equestrian.” — Jonathan Strader, Hatchet Hall, Los Angeles, CA
“I love this bourbon because it’s super affordable but also tastes delicious. Basically, it’s not going to break the bank but tastes like it might.” — Shawn Stanton, Working Class Outlaws, Detroit, MI
Elijah Craig Small Batch
“[Elijah Craig] is the father of bourbon, and it’s very well priced. The sweetness from the corn pairs beautifully with the other ingredients. I prefer to use simple syrup over a sugar cube in my julep. It tends to blend into the bourbon and mint more thoroughly. With lots of finely crushed ice, it’s a refreshing adult snow cone.” — Tracey Eden, American Whiskey, New York, NY
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