The most stripped down version of a mint julep, says Christopher Evans of Bourbon on Rye in Lexington, Kentucky, involves a good handful of spearmint muddled at the bottom of the silver cup, then discarded so that just the oil is left. Fill your cup up with crushed ice, add three-quarter part simple syrup, and two parts of bourbon. The final touch is a mint sprig, smacked against your wrist three to four times to release the oils before garnishing the cup.
An alternative way to create the classic mint julep cocktail involves steeping spearmint leaves in the simple syrup then straining the mixture to create a mint simple syrup. When making juleps for a crowd (like on a race day at Lexington’s Keeneland track), this is the way to go.
Chef Newman Miller at Star Hill Provisions at Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, Kentucky spices up his mint julep with Fernet-Branca liqueur and Amaro Zucca aperitif, balancing the majority Maker’s Mark Cask Strength bourbon for a delightful, complex twist on the classic mint profile. Miller also smacks his mint garnish to release the oils and suggests that the straw be placed in the middle of the garnish, “because you want most of the sensory experience of the mint over the taste,” he says.
To shake up his classic, Evans from Bourbon on Rye adds in a half ounce of Cardamaro liqueur, a bar spoonful of Brennivín schnapps, 5-6 drops of lemon bitters, and a half ounce of mint simple syrup this time to two ounces of bourbon.
For an easy-drinking cocktail on Star Hill Provisions’ menu, Miller mixes up Ale-8-One soda (his batch includes 30 12-ounce cans), Maker’s Mark bourbon (two-liter’s worth), and simple syrup (a full quart). He combines all these ingredients together in a slushy machine and then adds fresh mint and a drop of high-quality mint extract to garnish. The result is an Derby Day drink that won’t leave you sloshed in the middle of the day.