The julep-style cocktail, served over crushed ice and garnished with mint, is said to have its origins in the Persian gulab, a rosewater-scented syrup. As the drink migrated to Europe and then across the Atlantic and evolved with time and available ingredients, it eventually found its current form: a refreshing combination of mint, whiskey, sugar and ice.
The Mint Julep was popularized in the South and made by all the most prestigious bartenders of the time, most notably by Tom Bullock, a Black bartender who paved the way for Black bartenders in the late-19th and early-20th centuries and is said to have made one of the best juleps in Louisville.
These days, the julep is most commonly associated with the iconic Kentucky Derby, where it’s the event’s official drink. But you don’t need to limit your julep drinking to the first Saturday in May; the drink’s dark-spirit base renders it delicious year-round. For the best version of the cocktail, the key is cracked ice, and lots of it, and the freshest herbs you can find.
If you’re looking to try variations on the classic, you’ll be sure to find one among these to suit your fancy.
Thin Mint Julep
If you’re a fan of the popular Girl Scout cookie, give this drink a try. Inspired by the cookie’s flavors, this recipe adds white crème de cacao to the usual suspects of bourbon, mint and sugar for a chocolatey touch. Garnish it with a thin mint, and you have a chocolatey, minty dessert in a glass.
1792 Kentucky White Dog Julep
Whiskey wasn’t always aged in wooden barrels, and this julep is meant to replicate what it would have tasted like in the late-18th or early-19th centuries, before aging became standard for the spirit. This julep riff from famed drinks historian David Wondrich uses a base of unaged corn or rye whiskey but otherwise resembles the standard julep with ice, sugar and mint. Its flavor will be lighter and more floral than that of the classic but still familiar.
If there’s a cocktail style perfectly befitting the use of a cocktail shrub, it’s the julep. This recipe swaps out the typical simple syrup and instead pairs a maple-beet shrub with the mint and bourbon. A shrub’s balance of sweetness and acidity adds complexity to a cocktail, and the earthy beet notes in this riff render it a great cold-weather tipple.
Bartender Nicholas Bennett of New York City’s Porchlight created this French-inspired take on the classic julep by swapping out the traditional whiskey base for cognac. He then layered in St-Germain, a green tea syrup, fresh mint and mole bitters for a rich and complex take on the classic julep.Continue to 5 of 9 below.
Blackberry Mint Julep Margarita
This Mint Julep-Margarita hybrid is exactly what you’d expect it to be: a fruity, minty Margarita in a julep-style format. Blackberries and mint get muddled with honey syrup in a shaker and then shaken with tequila and lime juice before being strained into a julep cup. It’s fresh and inviting at any time of year.
Carlos Ramos, the bar manager at the chic Villa Azur in Miami, took inspiration from his city’s tropical vibe to craft this fresh take on the julep. Bourbon joins coconut cream, mint and banana liqueur, and it all goes for a spin in the blender and then is garnished with mint, powdered sugar and banana for a taste of eternal summer.
Albariño Mint Julep
This cocktail from Alex Day of Death & Co is exactly what it sounds like. Spanish white wine meets mint and gets accented by stone fruit notes from crème de pêche. The wine base and crushed ice mean you can sip this low-ABV julep all afternoon and well into evening.
Gin on Gin Julep
The classic julep gets a botanical makeover with a combination of Plymouth gin and Bols genever. The genever’s malty characteristics add warm tones to this otherwise fresh and herbal julep variation.Continue to 9 of 9 below.
Ah, yes, the classic. Erick Castro, the co-founder of San Diego's Polite Provisions and Raised by Wolves, brings us his favorite rendition of the classic, keeping the usual combination of bourbon, mint and simple syrup and topping the drink with an optional dash of Angostura bitters as well as the more common sprig of mint.
Get the recipe.