The Best Mint Julep You’ll Ever Have (Just in Time for the Kentucky Derby)


In honor of this weekend's Kentucky Derby festivities, we got Colin Spoelman, Co-Founder and Master Distiller of The Kings County Distillery, to spill on just what makes the perfect mint julep. Hint: It's definitely not a blender:

One weekend when I was in college, I was tasked with making mint juleps. It was the day of the Kentucky Derby my junior year, which fell during final exams, but this was my right and responsibility as a Kentuckian, and so I offered. Trouble was, I'm an Appalachian Kentuckian, which is a very different thing from a Bluegrass Kentuckian. Such distinctions were subtleties that no one cared about up North, even if they defined my youth. (If my college friends only knew the childhood anxiety and excitement that came from visiting the sophisticated metropolis of Lexington!) Regardless, I had no idea how to make a julep, but to admit that ignorance was to forfeit any credibility I had as a Southerner, which was the broad justification I used to explain my eccentricities and ignorances in most cultural matters.

Fortunately this was the dawn of the Internet age, and I found a recipe online. A few recipes, actually. Recalling that ice is important to the julep, I selected the one that called for a blender. Or may I only intuited that a blender would be necessary. As it turns out, you cannot liquefy mint in a blender, nor is that required or desired in a julep. But I thought it would be great.

Into the blender went the bourbon, the ice, and a bundle of mint sprigs, as well as a lot of powdered sugar. The result was a bourbon mint smoothie, flecked with vegetal bits that gave it the consistency of a chopped salad. It was very, very wrong, and I was told so. Undeterred, I removed myself from the party we had planned and drank mine in private, which helped quite a bit.

Mint juleps are properly made with sugar syrup; often this is infused overnight with mint. I would recommend skipping all this. Throughout most of American history, drinks were made using a lot of sugar — it seems that old recipes were designed for palates that weren't already inundated with high-fructose corn syrup. Also, if you use rye in your julep, it becomes a Yankee cooler and it no longer a mint julep. You are trying too hard.


Silver cup

4 sprigs mint

2 1/1 ounces (74 ml) bourbon

Crushed ice



Frost a silver cup in your freezer. Remove the stems from 3 mint sprigs and place the leaves in the bottom of a silver cup. Add a splash of bourbon and muddle the mint. Add the rest of the bourbon, pack the cup with crushed ice, and then fill with seltzer. Garnish with the remaining mint sprig.

(Can't get enough cocktails? Check out The Kings County Distillery Guide to Urban Moonshining here.)

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