Looking to throw a derby party with mint juleps that people will actually remember? We have simple advice–go big or go home. Don’t buy any old whiskey, don’t cut corners on the ingredients and don’t serve Kentucky’s favorite cocktail in solo cups. These tweaks to your usual routine will have your guests looking forward to next year’s shindig.
Real Kentucky Bourbon
Jack Daniels is a perfectly good whiskey, but it’s not made in Kentucky and it’s not bourbon. Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve, Knob Creek and Evan Williams Black Label are all solid choices and all Kentucky bourbons. Though if you want to spend a little more and really impress your friends, you might try Blanton’s Original Single Barrel Whiskey, 1792 Ridgemont Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon, or Eagle Rare Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. And if you can’t find any of these (or find them too pricey), just make sure your booze of choice says Kentucky Bourbon on the label. Otherwise, you’re just making a whiskey drink with a mint garnish. More recommendations from David Perry.
There’s a reason mint juleps are traditionally served with crushed ice. An authentic julep is almost entirely bourbon (about 2-4 ounces depending on the individual) with just a small amount of simple syrup (one tablespoon) and mint leaves to taste. While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a nice bourbon straight up or on the rocks, a mint julep is typically consumed during the day and in good quantity. If you plan on having several, you will appreciate the crushed ice. It melts quicker, thus diluting the drink with just the right amount of water to balance out the bourbon and keep you somewhat hydrated.
If you really want to impress your friends, buy a linen or cloth bag (or cloth towel that can be used like a bag) and fill it with ice cubes. Hammer it against cement or any hard surface until most of it looks like shaved ice–this requires a lot of smacks against the pavement but it’s worth it. Fill each cup up past the top with ice so it resembles a snow cone. Then add your liquids. The traditional “Lewis Ice Bag” is available on Amazon for a $15.
Silver Julep Cups
Silver cups look and feel great for cocktail consumption, tradition aside. They serve a higher purpose in this case, though, by keeping the mixture nice and cool–allowing the ice to melt just enough but not too quickly. Spring for the authentic silver plated ones and use them again next year or go with the budget, worry-free plastic ones that still look the part (but don’t insulate your drink quite like the real ones).
Read a more in-depth take on the Mint Julep, by our resident mixologist A.J. Rathbun.