The first two weeks of May are a little slice of heaven for horse racing fans, especially in the South. With the Kentucky Derby slated for the first weekend and Nashville’s own Iroquois Steeplechase following the next, there are so many opportunities to celebrate the traditions associated with the race-day experience. We love the hats, the clothes, the gorgeous food, the wagering and of course, the cocktails.

Whether you’re attending the race or hosting a group at home to watch the coverage, having Mint Julep concoctions on hand is simply a must. This specialty drink isn’t the easiest thing to pour, as it can’t be just thrown together. It takes a bit of planning and careful preparation, but the results are so worth it. The drinks look beautiful, Southern and are always well-received by everyone who embraces the race-day experience.

While there are dozens of ways to make these specialty libations, we’ve found a few top-tier recipes that incorporate our appreciation of all thing’s wellness as well as our favorite spirits for pouring. Cheers!

RECIPES:

Skinny Julep

While we don’t suggest ruining anyone’s fun by bringing up calories, having a lighter choice on hand is always appreciated, especially by females. This version also appeals to those who prefer a stronger, less sweet taste. The citrus pop gives a tart burst of refreshing flavor.

1.5 oz Jack Daniels Bourbon
8-10 fresh mint leaves
.5 tsp sugar or small packet stevia
1.5-3 oz water (to taste)
Splash of lime juice

Wash the mint leaves (don’t dry). Tear up the leaves to release their flavor and put into a julep cup before gently muddling with sugar/stevia. Swab the mint around the inside of the cup. Fill the halfway with crushed ice. Add bourbon, water (to taste, depending on how strong you want the drink to be), and a splash of lime juice. Fill the rest of the cup with crushed ice. Stir until the outside of the cup frosts. Add a straw and snow cone-like dome of crushed ice on top and garnish with a mint sprig

Hibiscus Julep

Find a bit of balance with your bourbon consumption, alter the recipe to include healing ingredients like Hibiscus Tea and raw honey. A dose of their antioxidant properties never hurts!

1 oz Old Forester Signature 100 Proof
1 oz Old Forester Classic 86 Proof
.75 oz Hibiscus Syrup*
1 bar spoon Becherovka Liqueur
8-10 mint leaves
3 mint sprigs, for garnish (hibiscus flower, if available)

Rub a handful of mint leaves inside a double old-fashioned glass. Add bourbons, liqueur, and syrup. Pack with crushed ice. Garnish with generous sprigs of mint along with the flower. 

*Hibiscus Syrup: Bring 1 cup water to boil, reduce heat, add 2 hibiscus tea bags, steep 15 minutes, discard. Dissolve ¾ cup raw honey into tea. Store in refrigerator.

Favorite Julep

A traditional crowd-pleaser with just 3 ingredients.

8 large fresh mint leaves
.5 oz of demerara simple syrup in a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water
2.5 oz Woodford Reserve bourbon

Gently tap mint leaves against your hands to release aromas. Rub the mint leaves along the inside of a julep cup and drop them into the cup. Add the remaining ingredients. Add crushed ice and swizzle until the julep cup frosts over. Add more crushed ice and garnish with mint.

MINT JULEP TIPS:

If you over-muddle mint leaves, it will not only look messy, but you’ll end up getting little pieces stuck in your teeth – never a good race-day look. Be gentle when muddling.

Use pre-chilled, dry glassware or julep cups

Use cracked or crushed ice, draining any excess fluid before putting into serving cup- and don’t handle it with your bare hands, as this ruins the frost effect. Glasses/Cups won’t frost if wet, with undried ice or in the wind.

To speed up frosting process, put glass/cup into the coldest part of the refrigerator for 30-45 minutes prior to mixing. Twirling it also helps.

Choose only the highest quality bourbons and have at least a couple of different bottles on hand to mix up the flavors.

When serving, we suggest small linen cocktail napkins in classic white.

Use only fragrant, fresh mint, and preferably smaller, tender leaves.

On straws—keep them short so that mint garnish fragrance is part of every sip.