The Kentucky Derby is here, so get out your fanciest hat and plan to make a Honey Whiskey Mint Julep to celebrate. It’s sweet, minty and ice cold for a hot day!
Two things are always a sure sign that spring is in full swing, and that summer is right around the corner: mint growing in the garden and the Kentucky Derby.
They mark the end of April and the beginning of May, and it’ll be summer any minute after that.
This year I haven’t had a moment yet to fill my herb boxes with new plants, but last weekend it was nice enough to be in the yard and I discovered that my mint from last year has come back!
So has my parsley, sprouting a long sprout supporting a flower bud.
The mint, though, is sprawling around the flower box. Its roots have whipped around the corners and little sprouts poking their noses out all over the box.
I’m not even sure there’s room for more plants this year… Maybe I’ll just have to have a “mint box?”
Not that I’m mad about that, at all! Those are some of my favorite cocktails for summer. (I even named my cat Julep, so you know I’m not kidding.)
Mint juleps are also the official drink for the Kentucky Derby, but you don’t have to be at Churchill Downs to enjoy one. They are so easy to make at home.
All you need is a few fresh mint leaves, a sweetener and bourbon. And ice — crushed is best!
I was so inspired I decided to try a mint julep made with honey whiskey.
I like to make my own, but a number of the big distilleries sell a honey-sweetened bourbon. It’s absolutely lovely in a mint julep. Honey and mint are a perfect pair in the Honey Whiskey Mint Julep.
How to get a super minty mint julep
Fresh mint is key.
Lots of grocery stores sell mint in the produce section, so head there if you don’t have your own “mint box” in your garden.
Trim the stems and let them sit in water to fluff up the leaves until you’re ready to start mixing drinks.
Right before you add mint to the cocktail, make sure to clap it between your hands.
This seems like a weird step, but I promise you it’s to extract the mint essential oils from the leaves. Trust me, your hands will smell really good after!
Then, make sure to muddle the leaves into your julep cup, with your sweetener or a little whiskey. Use the blunt end of a wooden spoon if you don’t have a muddler.
The motion you will make is a pounding or mashing, like you are squishing a blackberry. Once you smell the mint coming from the cup, you’re ready to build the rest of your drink.
Sweetening a Honey Whiskey Mint Julep
Typically, you would use a sugar cube or simple syrup to sweeten a mint julep. Some bartenders even use a mint-infused simple syrup for extra mint taste.
I shared a recipe for an Irish Whiskey Honey Mint Julep a few years ago, but it’s different from today’s version with honey whiskey. The Irish one uses honey as its sweetener, with Irish whiskey as the starring spirit.
If you have honey whiskey on hand, it makes for a great shortcut! You don’t really need any extra sweetener. I found the honey whiskey to be just sweet enough on its own.
Should a mint julep be served in a julep cup?
Traditionally, yes. Julep cups are a classic item a Southern lady might keep in her liquor cabinet for Derby day.
But a silver julep cup isn’t necessary these days, though they do keep the cocktail spectacularly icy cold.
Crushed ice is key
On our recent trip to Louisville, we had the most delicate mint julep, with superfine snow cone-esque crushed ice, and it was so lovely. But if you have a freezer that crushes ice or even a blender, that will work too!
Crushing the ice gives it lots more surface area, so your drink can get super, duper cold. Paired with a metal julep cup, you can expect lots of condensation.
This mint julep with honey whiskey is cool and refreshing on a hot day. You can enjoy them all summer long, even if you’re not watching horse racing.
But if you’re planning to watch the Derby this weekend, you should absolutely try this Honey Whiskey Mint Julep.
Go ahead and put together your homemade honey whiskey, stock up on fresh mint and whip up a batch of Bourbon Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookies while you’re at it.
And don’t forget to get out your fancy hat!