Ten Years Later… This is Still Not a Mint Julep!

Tomorrow is the first Saturday of May, meaning that some horses will be running in, like, the 945th annual Kentucky Derby. The Derby is such an all-consuming affair for the city of Louisville that the University of Louisville actually schedules its entire academic year around it. And beyond the confines of Churchill Downs, there are a bunch of traditions associated with it, including…

  • Derby Pie. A chocolate and walnut tart that can only be marketed by that name by a bakery in Prospect, Kentucky. A lawsuit awaits those try to do so surreptitiously.
  • Burgoo. A stew of beef, chicken, pork, and vegetables that is not served in Bushwick in the summer.
  • Mint juleps. A refreshing cocktail made from bourbon whiskey (Kentucky’s most popular export), sugar, and—yes—mint.

While the recipe for Derby Pie is a closely guarded secret and Burgoo apparently derives from throw-everything-in-a-pot approach to cooking, a mint julep is elegantly simple: three ingredients, a cup, and crushed ice.

Over the years, I’ve had various concoctions called mint juleps. The worst one I had was in 2004. A bar in Brooklyn was serving them for the Derby, but the bartender was using crème de menthe to make them. Gross!

Around 2006, just a year after YouTube became a thing, a video began to circulate that showed how to make a mint julep. It became popular because of how horribly wrong the drink was being made: “a mojito with bourbon, instead of rum” was the guiding philosophy.

Ten years later, this video still screams “made in Miami!”

The mint julep is to cocktails what playing first-base is to baseball: it’s easy to do, but it’s hard to do well. I once thought about making a mint julep with unoaked rye whiskey. By far, the simplest and best executed approach to making a mint julep is Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s recipe. Morgenthaler, who alerted the world to the “mojito with bourbon” video, described a mint julep like an “old fashioned with mint instead of bitters.”

Although I’m a little less excited about the julep cup frosting before his very eyes, I agree that this is how a mint julep should be made. No limes, no sour mix, and definitely no crème de menthe.

Mint Julep
Morgenthaler’s “old fashioned with mint instead of bitters” is a great way to conceptualize a mint julep.

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