This classic Mint Julep is bright and refreshing, with fresh mint and bourbon. You only need 3 ingredients and just a few minutes to prepare this bourbon cocktail – and you don’t even have to wait for the Kentucky Derby to enjoy it!

Two mint julep cocktails

A Classic Mint Julep Recipe

I love a classic Mint Julep. It’s simple and refreshing, and always makes me smile with the memories I have from visiting Churchill Downs. The mint julep has a longtime tradition with the Kentucky Derby, after all!

I realized recently that while I’ve shared a few twists on this popular bourbon cocktail, like my Peach Mint Julep and Pineapple Mint Julep Sangria, I’ve never actually shared the simple, classic recipe. And with loads of fresh mint in our garden, I thought it was the perfect time to do so. With this recipe, I’m getting back to the basics!

To make your drink just as they would at the Derby, you’ll need just 3 ingredients – bourbon, fresh mint, and simple syrup. Add some ice, and your drink is ready to go – it’s almost too simple!

A mint julep cocktail in a clear glass

What Is a Mint Julep?

Mint juleps are a classic Southern cocktail. They’re made with bourbon, sugar, and fresh mint, and served over crushed or shaved ice. You’ll usually see them served in a pewter cup with a mound of ice on top.

These cocktails are famous in Kentucky, known as the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. Churchill Downs serves nearly 120,000 of these bourbon cocktails in just 2 days each year!!

What’s the Difference Between a Mint Julep and Mojito?

Mint juleps and mojitos are very similar mint cocktails. However, a mojito is traditionally made with rum, while a mint julep is made with Kentucky bourbon. Additionally, mojitos usually include lime juice while this classic drink has none.

bourbon, fresh mint leaves, and simple syrup

Key Ingredients

You only need 3 ingredients to make this classic bourbon cocktail. Scroll down to the recipe card for full measurements.

  • Fresh mint – Fresh mint is key to a great mint julep! Be sure to use large, vibrant green mint leaves in this cocktail. First muddle mint leaves in the glass, and then finish by poking a sprig or two into the drink for garnish.
  • Simple syrup – Simple syrup incorporates perfectly and smoothly into the drink, to add a bit of sweetness. You could also use ½ teaspoon superfine sugar or 1-2 sugar cubes if you prefer. While you can find simple syrup in the store, I prefer to make my own (MUCH cheaper, and so EASY!). See directions below.
  • Bourbon – Bourbon is the alcohol typically used in mint juleps, but you could use your own favorite whiskey if desired. Be sure to use a good quality bourbon, one that you’d sip “neat” (with no extra ingredients) – as it’s the main ingredient of this cocktail.

Recipe Variations

Like any classic cocktail, many variations have been made. Here are a few.

  • Peach Mint JulepWith fresh, juicy peaches and a ginger simple syrup, this is my favorite twist for summer.
  • Pineapple Mint Julep Sangria – This big-batch cocktail is perfect for entertaining, incorporating a bottle of crisp white wine and pineapple juice. Delightful!
  • Blackberry Julep – Muddle some blackberries with the mint for a delicious berry-infused drink.
  • Frozen Mint Julep – Toss the ingredients in a blender for the frozen version of this cocktail.
  • Whiskey Julep. While Kentucky bourbon is typically used, any whiskey can be substituted.
  • Add lemon. A squeeze of fresh lemon is really lovely in this cocktail. If you like lemon, do give it a try!
A mint julep cocktail

How to Make Homemade Simple Syrup

Though you can find simple syrup at the store, it’s SO EASY to make at home, for very little cost. I always have some in the fridge.

All you need to do is boil equal parts water and sugar, and stir until the sugar dissolves completely – this should take 5 minutes max. I recommend starting with 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 cup of sugar, and see how quickly you use it up – then adjust the quantities as needed.

Once the sugar has dissolved completely, remove from heat and allow to cool. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 month. I always store the simple syrup in a pint or half-pint canning jar with a lid.

How to Make a Mint Julep

Just a few minutes stand between you and the minty bourbon cocktail of your dreams!

  • Muddle the mint. Muddle the mint and simple syrup for about 15 seconds. This crushes the leaves, releasing their flavorful, scented oils that infuse the entire drink with mint.
  • Add the bourbon.
  • Finish with ice. Fill the glass nearly full with crushed or pellet ice. Then stir for a full 20 seconds, to perfectly dilute and chill the drink, and to frost up the glass. Mound more ice on top for its signature appearance, if desired.
A cocktail made with bourbon, mint, and simple syrup
  • Garnish. Poke a sprig of fresh mint into the top and enjoy!
A hand grabbing a mint julep cocktail

What Glass Should This Be Served In?

This cocktail is traditionally served in a tin julep glass/cup. The glass I’m using has the traditional julep cup shape, but is made of non-traditional clear glass – because I like to see my cocktail! A low-ball glass will work just fine, too.

More Bourbon Cocktail Recipes:

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Two mint julep cocktails

Classic Mint Julep

Yield: 1 drink
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes

This classic Mint Julep is bright and refreshing, with fresh mint and bourbon. You only need 3 ingredients and just a few minutes to prepare this bourbon cocktail - and you don't even have to wait for the Kentucky Derby to enjoy it!

Ingredients

  • 8 to 12 large fresh mint leaves (I like a LOT of mint!)
  • 1 ounce simple syrup - use more if desired, see notes below on how to make it
  • 2 ounces good quality bourbon
  • 1 sprig fresh mint, for garnish

Instructions

    1. Add mint leaves and simple syrup to the glass. Muddle until the mint is fully broken up, about 15 seconds.
    2. Add the bourbon.
    3. Add crushed or pellet ice to nearly fill the glass - then stir for a full 20 seconds, to thoroughly chill the drink and to frost up the glass. Mound more ice on top for its signature appearance, if desired.
    4. Garnish with a sprig of mint and enjoy immediately.

Notes

How to Make Simple Syrup: Making a simple syrup is easy! Just combine ½ cup water and ½ cup sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow the syrup to cool before using. Store any leftover simple syrup in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 month.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 1 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 199Total Fat: 1gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 31mgCarbohydrates: 15gFiber: 7gSugar: 6gProtein: 3g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated by Nutritionix. I am not a nutritionist and cannot guarantee accuracy. If your health depends on nutrition information, please calculate again with your own favorite calculator.

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Two mint julep cocktails