Mint Julep: Easy 3-Ingredient Cocktail [The Ultimate Recipe]

What’s a Mint Julep?

The Mint Julep is a classic cocktail that is the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. Made traditionally with bourbon whiskey, simple syrup, and fresh mint, it is muddled and served over crushed ice in a silver or pewter Julep cup, typically garnished with a mint sprig.

This drink showcases a refreshing flavor profile, with the warmth of bourbon, the sweetness of the syrup, and the coolness of mint. Its easy preparation and unique presentation, featuring a frosty cup and a mound of ice, make it both visually striking and delightful for warm-weather sipping.

Why is it called a Mint Julep?

The Mint Julep, a celebrated cocktail of the Southern United States and the iconic drink of the Kentucky Derby, derives its name from its primary ingredient, mint. This refreshing beverage artfully combines fresh mint leaves, bourbon, and simple syrup.

The term ‘julep‘ has its origins in the Persian word ‘gulab’ and the Arabic ‘julab,’ initially describing a sweet drink made with rose water. Adapted in the American South, this drink evolved to include locally grown mint and bourbon, a whiskey style integral to Southern culture.

The Mint Julep’s perfect balance of mint’s cooling properties and bourbon’s warmth makes it a favored choice in warmer climates and a symbol of Southern hospitality.


The classic Mint Julep cocktail, a staple of Southern hospitality, primarily requires three ingredients: whiskey (typically bourbon), simple syrup, and fresh mint. A standard serving includes 60 ml (or 2 oz) of whiskey, balanced with 15 ml (or 1/2 oz) of simple syrup. To infuse the drink with its signature aroma and flavor, about 10 mint leaves are muddled, with an extra sprig for garnish. Crushed ice is also essential for its refreshing quality.

  1. Whiskey (Bourbon): 60 ml / 2 oz
  2. Simple Syrup: 15 ml / 0.5 oz
  3. Mint: 4 sprigs (1 for garnish, about 10 leaves for muddling)
  4. Crushed Ice: To fill the glass

Remember, these measurements are suggestions and can be adjusted according to personal taste preferences.

Ingredient Substitutes

Adapting the Mint Julep recipe to suit individual tastes, diets or ingredient availability is straightforward.

For the whiskey, if bourbon is not an option, alternatives like rye whiskey or Scotch can be used, offering a distinct flavor profile. As a substitute for simple syrup, natural sweeteners like maple syrup or honey are excellent choices, adding a unique depth to the cocktail. In the absence of mint, herbs such as basil or rosemary can be used, introducing an intriguing herbal twist to the drink.

  • Whiskey Alternatives: Rye whiskey or Scotch for a different flavor
  • Sweetener Substitutes: Maple syrup or honey for depth
  • Herb Variations: Basil or rosemary for a unique twist

These substitutions allow for a personalized experience while maintaining the essence of the classic Mint Julep.

Ingredient Proportions

A recommended ratio of ingredients for a Mint Julep is 1 part simple syrup to 4 parts whiskey, accompanied by a generous amount of muddled mint, typically about 3 sprigs or 10 leaves, with one extra sprig for garnish.

However, these proportions are not set in stone and can be adjusted. Those who prefer a sweeter or more minty drink might increase the simple syrup or mint, respectively; while others might opt for more whiskey for a stronger flavor. The key is to find the balance that best suits your palate, making the Mint Julep a versatile and personalized cocktail.

  • Standard Ratio: 1:4 – 1 part simple syrup to 4 parts whiskey
  • Mint: 3 sprigs or 10 leaves for muddling, 1 sprig for garnish
  • Customization: Alter the ratio for a sweeter or stronger drink

Best Ingredients

The quality of ingredients in a Mint Julep significantly influences its overall taste. Opt for a smooth, high-quality whiskey, preferably bourbon, as it forms the backbone of the drink. Fresh mint leaves are essential for their vibrant aroma and flavor. For the simple syrup, a homemade version allows for control over sweetness and ensures that there are no artificial additives.

  • Whiskey: Choose a smooth, high-quality bourbon
  • Mint: Fresh leaves for aroma and flavor
  • Simple Syrup: Homemade for sweetness control and no artificial additives

Flavor Profile

The Mint Julep offers a refreshing and balanced flavor profile.

The bourbon provides a warm, rich base, often with notes of vanilla and oak. The simple syrup adds sweetness, complementing the whiskey’s robust character. Mint introduces a cool, refreshing element, making the drink particularly enjoyable in warm weather.

Overall, the Mint Julep is smooth, with a harmonious blend of sweetness, warmth, and herbal freshness.

  • Whiskey: Warm, rich base with vanilla and oak notes
  • Sweetness: Simple syrup adds a complementary sweetness
  • Mint: Cool, refreshing element
  • Overall: Smooth, balanced, perfect for warm weather

Tools & Equipment

Preparing a Mint Julep requires a few essential tools to achieve the best results.

A muddler is key for gently bruising the mint leaves to release their oils and aroma. A jigger ensures accurate measurement of whiskey and simple syrup, crucial for balancing the flavors. Use a traditional julep cup to serve the cocktail, enhancing the drinking experience. Crushed ice is another vital component, so an ice crusher or a bag and mallet may be needed. Lastly, a bar spoon is handy for gently mixing the ingredients.

  1. Muddler: For bruising mint leaves
  2. Jigger: For accurate measurements
  3. Glassware: Julep cup
  4. Bar Spoon: For mixing ingredients
  5. Ice Crusher/Bag and Mallet: For crushed ice

What is a Julep Cup?

A Julep cup is an iconic vessel for serving the Mint Julep cocktail, traditionally made of silver or pewter. Characterized by its sleek, cylindrical shape, beaded rim, and sturdy base, the Julep cup is not only a symbol of elegance but also functional, as it effectively retains the cold temperature of the drink. The cup’s design, often featuring detailed engravings or a simple, polished finish, adds to the overall aesthetic and experience of enjoying a Mint Julep, making it a quintessential element of this classic Southern cocktail.

  • Material: Traditionally silver or pewter
  • Design: Sleek, cylindrical shape with a beaded rim and sturdy base
  • Function: Retains cold temperature of the drink
  • Aesthetic: Often features engravings or a polished finish
  • Significance: Enhances the Mint Julep drinking experience

Instructions for Preparation

To prepare a Mint Julep, start by placing about 10 mint leaves in the bottom of the Julep cup or another serving glass. Gently muddle the mint with the simple syrup to release the mint’s oils and aroma. Fill the glass with crushed ice, then pour in the whiskey. Stir the mixture gently, allowing the ingredients to blend and the drink to chill. Top with more crushed ice, forming a dome shape. Garnish with a mint sprig, ensuring it is close to the straw or the rim of the glass to enhance the minty aroma with each sip. Sip and savor this timeless cocktail, enjoying the harmonious blend of flavors.

  1. Muddle Mint: Place about 10 mint leaves in the bottom of your glass. Add the simple syrup and gently muddle the leaves to release their essential oils and aroma.
  2. Add Ice: Fill the glass with crushed ice, almost to the top.
  3. Pour Whiskey: Measure and pour the whiskey over the ice.
  4. Stir Gently: Use a bar spoon to lightly stir the mixture, ensuring the flavors meld together and the drink becomes chilled.
  5. Add More Ice: Top up with additional crushed ice, if needed, to create a slight dome at the top of the glass.
  6. Garnish: Place a sprig of fresh mint as a garnish. Position it near the straw or the edge of the glass for an aromatic minty scent with each sip.
  7. Serve: Present the cocktail with a straw and enjoy the refreshing, vibrant flavors of the Mint Julep.

Stir or Shake

The Mint Julep is traditionally built directly in the serving glass, a technique that enhances its distinct flavors and aromas. Instead of shaking, the drink is gently stirred after the ingredients are added. This method ensures that the mint’s delicate oils are released without becoming overly bruised, maintaining the cocktail’s refreshing quality.

  • Technique: Built directly in the serving glass
  • Method: Gently stirred, not shaken
  • Purpose: To release mint oils delicately

Ice, Chilling & Dilution

In crafting the traditional Mint Julep, the role of ice is both functional and aesthetic.

The cocktail is built directly in the Julep cup and then stirred with crushed ice, a process that not only chills the drink but also causes the cup to frost over. Traditionally, after stirring, the drink is topped up with more crushed ice to create a slight dome at the top of the glass. This not only enhances the visual appeal but also ensures the drink stays chilled, providing the perfect sipping experience characteristic of a classic Mint Julep.

  • Method: Build in glass, stir with crushed ice until cup frosts
  • Ice Role: Essential for chilling and dilution
  • Final Touch: Top up with crushed ice to form a dome
  • Outcome: A visually appealing, perfectly chilled Mint Julep


Common mistakes in making a Mint Julep include over-muddling the mint, which can result in a bitter flavor, and using too little ice, which fails to properly chill and dilute the drink. To avoid these pitfalls, gently bruise the mint leaves just enough to release their aroma and flavor, and be generous with the crushed ice to achieve the ideal temperature and dilution. Remember, the key is balance – in flavors, textures, and temperature – to craft the perfect Mint Julep.

  1. Mint Over-Muddling: Bruise gently to avoid bitterness
  2. Insufficient Ice: Use ample crushed ice for ideal chill and dilution
  3. Balance: Achieve the right mix of flavor, texture, and temperature


In the art of cocktail making, the choice of glassware and garnish goes beyond mere decoration, playing a crucial role in enhancing the overall enjoyment and character of the drink.


The classic choice for serving a Mint Julep is the iconic Julep cup, usually crafted from silver or pewter, which excellently retains the cold temperature of the drink. These cups typically hold about 8-12 oz (250-350 ml).

For a more accessible alternative, a lowball glass, like an old-fashioned or double-old-fashioned glass, matching the volume of a Julep cup, serves well.

While unconventional, serving a Mint Julep in a highball or Collins glass, or even a mason jar, can turn it into a longer drink.

Creative options include a glass mug, a copper mug for a Moscow Mule-esque experience, a bamboo cup for a tropical twist, or a ceramic mug for a rustic feel, each adding a unique touch to the presentation of this classic cocktail.

  • Classic: Julep cup, silver or pewter, 8-12 oz (250-350 ml)
  • Alternative: Lowball glass, such as old-fashioned, similar volume
  • Long Drink: Highball/Collins glass or mason jar
  • Creative Options: Glass mug, copper mug, bamboo cup, ceramic mug


Garnishing a Mint Julep not only adds to its visual appeal but also enhances its flavor profile.

The classic garnish is a sprig of fresh mint, which complements the drink’s minty notes. For alternative options, a lemon or lime (fresh or dehydrated, twist or slice) can add a citrusy aroma, while a dusting of powdered sugar over the mint offers a hint of sweetness.

Creative Garnishes

Creative garnishes include edible flowers for an elegant touch, a cucumber slice or ribbon for freshness, or some skewered berries for a fruity twist. Candied mint or even bourbon-soaked cherries would offer a decadent twist. Freezing mint leaves inside ice cubes not only makes the drink visually striking but also slowly infuses additional minty flavor as the ice melts.

And for a festive look, a colorful straw or a decorative stirrer can be used.

Aromatic Garnishes

For an additional layer of flavor, sprinkle aromatic bitters (like Angostura) over the ice for an additional layer of flavor. In addition to mint, other fresh herbs like basil or thyme can offer a unique aromatic twist. A small piece of vanilla bean can introduce a subtle, exotic aroma and a hint of flavor. Especially in colder months, a cinnamon stick can add a warm, spicy note to the cocktail.

  • Classic: Sprig of fresh mint
  • Alternative: Lemon or lime, powdered sugar on mint
  • Creative: Edible flowers, cucumber, berries, mint ice cubes
  • Decadent: Candied mint, bourbon-soaked cherries
  • Aromatic: Bitters, herb sprigs, cinnamon stick, vanilla bean
  • Decorative: Colorful straw or decorative stirrer

These garnish choices allow for customization and add a personal flair to this timeless cocktail.

Variations & Riffs

If you like the refreshing combination of bourbon and mint in Mint Julep, you may also enjoy other cocktails with similar flavor profiles or ingredients.

For example, tropical variations like the Mojito or Old Cuban replace bourbon with rum while retaining the mint. Citrus-infused drinks, such as the Whiskey Smash, Southside and Eastside cocktails, add a zesty note. Effervescent options offer a fizzy alternative, like the Bourbon Rickey and John Collins with soda water, or Horse’s Neck and Moscow Mule with ginger ale and ginger beer, respectively.

These cocktails, as well as countless other variations and riffs on the classic Mint Julep, allow for experimentation with liquors, liqueurs, syrups, juices and other mixersfruits, herbs and sweeteners.

  • Tropical Variations:
    • Mojito: Rum, mint, sugar, lime
    • Old Cuban: Aged rum, mint, lime, champagne
  • Citrus-Infused Drinks:
    • Whiskey Smash: Bourbon, lemon, mint
    • Southside: Gin, mint, lemon
    • Eastside: Gin, cucumber, lime, mint
  • Effervescent Options:
    • Bourbon Rickey: Bourbon, lime juice, club soda
    • John Collins: Bourbon, lemon juice, sugar, club soda
    • Horse’s Neck: Bourbon, ginger ale, lemon zest
    • Moscow Mule: Vodka, ginger beer, lime, served in a copper mug
  • Other Variations:
    • Different spirits, mixers, syrups, fruits, herbs, sweeteners

What’s the difference between Mint Julep and Moscow Mule?

The Mint Julep and the Moscow Mule are distinct cocktails with different ingredients, presentations, and origins.

The Mint Julep, a Southern classic, combines bourbon whiskey, simple syrup, and mint, served in a silver or pewter Julep cup and garnished with a mint sprig. In contrast, the Moscow Mule, a mid-20th-century creation, blends vodka, ginger beer, and lime juice, typically served in a copper mug and garnished with a lime wedge.

The Mint Julep offers a minty flavor with a bourbon base, while the Moscow Mule presents a spicy, zesty taste due to its ginger beer component.

Their preparation methods also differ, with the Julep requiring muddling of mint, while the Mule simply stirring ingredients with ice.

  1. Base Spirit: Bourbon in Mint Julep, vodka in Moscow Mule
  2. Main Ingredients: Mint and simple syrup for Julep, ginger beer and lime for Mule
  3. Serving Vessel: Silver/pewter cup for Julep, copper mug for Mule
  4. Garnish: Mint sprig in Julep, lime wedge in Mule
  5. Flavor Profile: Minty with oaky notes for Julep, spicy and zesty for Mule
  6. Preparation: Muddling and stirring for Julep, only stirring for Mule
  7. Origins: Southern U.S. for Julep, 1940s America for Mule

Experiment – Create Your Own Riff

Why not give the classic cocktail a personal touch by tailoring each element to reflect your own style and preferences?

To create your own riff on the classic Mint Julep, start by considering variations in the base spirit; bourbon can be swapped with rye whiskey, Scotch, or even rum for a tropical twist. Next, experiment with different sweeteners like honey or agave syrup. The mint element can be substituted with basil or rosemary for a herbal change. You can also add fruits like berries or peaches to infuse fresh, seasonal flavors. Finally, play with garnishes and presentation to make your version visually appealing.

  • Base Spirit Variations: Try rye whiskey, Scotch, or rum instead of bourbon
  • Sweetener Options: Use honey or agave syrup
  • Herb Substitutes: Basil or rosemary instead of mint
  • Fruit Infusions: Add berries or peaches for a fresh twist
  • Creative Garnishes: Experiment with different garnishes for visual appeal

This approach to cocktail crafting encourages exploration and innovation, leading to a unique beverage that reflects your personal taste.

Serving Occasions

Famously, the Mint Julep is associated with the Kentucky Derby, embodying the spirit of Southern hospitality. Otherwise, the refreshing and elegant profile of the cocktail is versatile enough to suit a variety of serving occasions. Its adaptability to both casual and formal settings makes the Mint Julep a go-to cocktail for a range of social events.

Its refreshing nature makes it a perfect choice for summer gatherings, outdoor barbecues, and garden parties. The cocktail’s sophisticated charm also makes it suitable for more formal events like cocktail parties or celebratory toasts.

  • Kentucky Derby: A traditional choice
  • Summer Gatherings: Ideal for warm weather
  • Outdoor Events: Great for barbecues and garden parties
  • Formal Occasions: Fits cocktail parties and celebrations
  • Versatile: Suitable for both casual and formal settings

Food Pairings

Pairing food with a Mint Julep opens up a delightful culinary journey.

Its bourbon base and minty freshness pair well with Southern-style dishes like barbecue ribs or pulled pork. The cocktail’s sweetness balances the spiciness of dishes like buffalo wings or spicy shrimp. For a lighter fare, consider pairing with fresh salads or fruit platters, where the minty notes complement the freshness of the greens and fruits. The Mint Julep also pairs nicely with desserts, particularly those with caramel or vanilla flavors, enhancing the bourbon’s rich notes.

  • Southern Cuisine: Barbecue ribs, pulled pork
  • Spicy Dishes: Buffalo wings, spicy shrimp
  • Lighter Fare: Fresh salads, fruit platters
  • Desserts: Caramel or vanilla-flavored treats
  • Versatile Pairings: Complements a wide range of flavors
Mint Julep Cocktail

Mint Julep

The Mint Julep is a classic cocktail, known for being the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. It combines the warmth of bourbon whiskey, sweetness of simple syrup, and freshness of mint, served in a frosted Julep cup with crushed ice, perfect for summer events and pairing with Southern cuisine.
Total Time 3 minutes
Print Recipe Pin Recipe


  • 1 Muddler (to muddle mint at the bottom of the cup)
  • 1 Measuring jigger
  • 1 Julep cup
  • 1 Bar spoon
  • 1 Ice crusher / bag and mallet (to make crushed ice)


  • 2 oz Whiskey (preferably bourbon)
  • ½ oz Simple syrup
  • Fresh mint (approximately 4 sprigs - about 10 leaves for muddling and 1 sprig for garnish)
  • Ice (ideally crushed ice or very small ice cubes)


  • Muddle Mint and Syrup: In a Julep cup, gently muddle the mint leaves with simple syrup to release the mint's aroma.
  • Add Crushed Ice: Fill the cup about halfway with crushed ice.
  • Pour Bourbon: Add bourbon over the ice.
  • Stir: Stir the mixture gently until the cup begins to frost.
  • Top with Ice: Add more crushed ice to form a dome above the rim.
  • Garnish and Serve: Garnish with a mint sprig and serve immediately.


Calories: 180kcalCarbohydrates: 10gSodium: 8mgPotassium: 10mgSugar: 10gCalcium: 2mgIron: 1mg
Calories: 180kcal
Course: Drinks
Cuisine: Cocktail
Keyword: mint, whiskey
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