mint julep (perfected)

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No, mint juleps are not just for the Kentucky Derby. It’s a terrible, terrible misconception that they are. First of all, they are made with bourbon. And secondly, they are packed with mint and ice, making them fabulously refreshing in every sense of the word. The sad thing is that it wasn’t until this year’s Derby that I suddenly realized all of this.

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How did I suddenly come to see the light? Well, in early May I posted the mint julep recipe that I made last year for the Kentucky Derby and shortly afterwards received an e-mail from my sister-in-law’s mother with her family’s recipe. And ladies and gentlemen, when you get a recipe for mint julep from a woman like Debbie Farmer you better listen up. Debbie is many wonderful things, including an excellent cook and a fabulous host and it just so happens that she hails from Kentucky. So this year we made Debbie’s recipe for the Derby and after just one sip I was completely smitten. I declared right then and there that mint juleps should be enjoyed all summer long.

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What makes Debbie’s recipe so much better? Muddling mint (as I did last year) can produce a muddier flavor, while making a mint simple syrup delivers a big punch of big, fresh mint flavor that permeates smoothly throughout the bourbon. Using good quality bourbon is essential. How can you expect great things out of a substandard bourbon? For the last trick, snip a straw short enough to just barely allow you to sip from it without sticking your face all the way in. When your nose is that close, you can’t help but take in all that mint.

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When a friend recently showed up at my house bearing an enormous bouquet of mint just before a heat wave, I didn’t even hesitate to think about what to do with all that mint. It had one purpose only in my mind and so I went straight to the kitchen and got some mint simple syrup going on the stove.

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With another powerful heat wave making its way through New England, I’m pretty thrilled to have an ample supply of mint simple syrup in my fridge, ever at the ready to help cool me off (with the added help of some bourbon of course). Because no doubt about it, mint juleps now join ice cold limoncello and strawberry basil mojitos as my favorite go-to drinks for a hot, steamy day.

Mint Julep

Yield: 1 drink

Recipe from Debbie Farmer

Use good quality bourbon - I like Maker's Mark and Basil Hayden. If you're using a larger glass, you might want to increase the quantity of bourbon and mint simple syrup to make up for extra ice.


  • Crushed ice
  • 2 tablespoons mint simple syrup (see below)
  • 2 ounces bourbon
  • Fresh mint
  • Powdered sugar


  1. Chill julep cup or glass in the freezer. Fill the glass halfway with shaved or crushed ice and add 2 tablespoons of mint syrup and 2 ounces of bourbon. Stir rapidly with a spoon to frost the outside of the cup. Insert a sprig of mint and add more crushed on top, filing the cup. Sprinkle powdered sugar over the top. Insert a straw cut to 1 inch above the top of the cup.

Mint Simple Syrup

Refrigerated, the syrup will last for months.


  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 bunch fresh mint (about 1 cup, packed), preferably spearmint


  1. Combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a saucepan. Place over high heat and bring to a boil, stirring the mixture to dissolve the sugar. Boil 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add washed mint (still on the stem, just stir it all in). Set aside for 24 hours. Strain the mixture into a jar and discard the mint.

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