Make a Virgin Mint Julep to celebrate the Kentucky Derby. Made with zero-proof spirits that taste like bourbon, this is a delicious non-alcoholic cocktail to enjoy all summer long.
Non-alcoholic cocktails don’t have to taste bad, be overly sweet or have next to no flavor — and that goes for the booziest cocktails too.
In this post I’ll show you how to make a Virgin Mint Julep with non-alcoholic spirits (plus a few alternatives). Even without alcohol, it’s still a delicious drink that has that same mint julep taste.
You can serve it at Kentucky Derby parties (fancy hats recommended) or at any spring or summer gathering.
What is a mint julep?
The mint julep is a sweet, boozy cocktail made with bourbon, mint and sugar. It’s a classic cocktail known for its silver glassware and has a reputation of being a refreshing drink.
Called a silver julep cup, the traditional glassware keeps these cocktails ice cold, making them the perfect drink for a hot summer day.
It’s been the official drink of the Kentucky Derby horse race since 1939. Nowadays, Churchill Downs sells more than 120,000 juleps at the event each year, according to the Kentucky Derby website.
Virgin Mint Julep recipe
Made with Kentucky bourbon, mint juleps are known for their boozy flavor. However, they don’t have to contain booze at all.
If you’d like to try making mocktail versions of your favorite drinks, you can them with zero-proof spirits. These are liquids flavored to taste like alcohol, but don’t actually contain any.
And truthfully, they’re quite delicious and you really can’t tell a big difference!
To make a mint julep without alcohol, we’ll use zero-proof bourbon, a mint-infused simple syrup and fresh mint.
Below I’ll share some of my favorite brands for bourbon alternatives, too.
Mint Julep Cups
The traditional mint julep is poured into a silver cup or pewter cup, though it’s not totally necessary. You can certainly use a rocks glass or whatever you have on hand!
Each year the Kentucky Derby sells collectible glasses to commemorate the event. There are lots of these vintage derby cups on Etsy.
Here are a few of my favorite julep cups to add to your glassware collection:
To make a mint julep mocktail, here’s what you’ll need:
Mint simple syrup
You can make mint syrup with sugar, water and fresh mint leaves (which you can grow in your herb garden or pick up at the grocery store). You will need one cup sugar, one cup water and a big bunch of fresh mint sprigs, and then you’ll heat it up in a small saucepan on the stove until the sugar dissolves.
I prefer to make a big batch to mix up lots of Derby cocktails.
Feel free to use plain sugar or plain simple syrup and muddle it with fresh mint if you don’t want to make a mint-infused version of the syrup. You can also add a drop of peppermint essential oil or peppermint extract to regular simple syrup.
The mint julep cocktail recipe calls for bourbon whiskey, and luckily there are a number of non-alcoholic whiskey brands out there.
You can find zero-proof spirits at specialty shops and online. Here are a few of the best zero-proof whiskeys on the market (affiliate links):
- Ritual whiskey alternative is my favorite. (I’m an affiliate but I would recommend it anyway!) This non-alcoholic spirit has flavors of vanilla, stone fruit and sugar.
- Spiritless Kentucky 74 is a non-alcoholic bourbon that’s made in Kentucky and has notes of caramel, vanilla, and oak.
- Monday Zero Alcohol Whiskey is handcrafted in small batches in a California craft distillery. Matured in new white oak, it has flavors of butterscotch, burnt sugar, caramel and roasted coffee.
- Lyre’s American Malt Non-alcoholic Spirit is made in Australia and has scents of vanilla, sweet spice, caramel and accents of charred oak.
If you are thinking about getting into non-alcoholic cocktails, you may wish to pick up one of these bottles. You can use these whiskey alternatives in lots of non-alcoholic drink recipes, like the old-fashioned and the manhattan.
However, if you don’t have one of these on hand, my recommendation is to make it with strongly-brewed, unsweetened iced tea. Ginger ale or ginger beer would also be delicious.
The classic mint julep recipe is famous for its snow cone-like texture, so crushed ice is key. This is what makes the cocktail so well-loved on a hot day.
A few options here: Use the crushed ice from your fridge, grind it in a blender or use a lewis bag and mallet to smash the ice well. The finer the ice, the better!
How to make a non-alcoholic mint julep
There are a couple of ways to make a mint julep, and the non-alcoholic version can be prepared the same way.
The old-school way to make this traditional cocktail involves muddling fresh mint leaves, sugar and a splash of bourbon together in your cup, then topping with crushed ice and bourbon.
However, muddling can take a long time, especially if you are making more than a couple of drinks. That’s why I suggest making mint simple syrup for your cocktails.
Mint syrup is my favorite time-saving method because you can use one batch of syrup in lots of drinks. You can make a bunch of juleps and some minty mojitos too!
To make a mint julep:
- Pour the mint simple syrup into your julep cup.
- Pack the cup with crushed ice. The finer the better.
- Add the whiskey alternative. This helps to dilute the ice to keep this strong drink from being too strong.
- Pack some more ice onto the top of the drink.
- Garnish with a sprig of mint.
Variations & substitutions
Make it low-alcohol and low-calorie. To make a low ABV version of the mint julep would be to use half alcoholic whiskey and half non-alcoholic.
Make it without zero-proof alcohol. If you don’t have the non-alcoholic spirits on hand, no problem! Try unsweet iced tea or ginger ale to make this cocktail. It will still be minty and delicious!
Have fun with herbs. This basil julep is made with basil simple syrup, but you could also use lemongrass, rosemary or thyme for delicious twists on this classic.
Make it with honey. Make a mint-infused honey simple syrup. Simply add the mint after you turn off the heat and let the mixture infuse for 20-30 minutes.
More Derby Cocktails
While the mint julep is the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, it’s certainly not the only one.
The Black-Eyed Susan is the drink for the Preakness Stakes (make it with Ritual gin alternative ), and the Belmont Jewel is the drink for the Belmont Stakes (make it with the same whiskey alternative).
Of course, you can always enjoy any bourbon cocktail, such as a Kentucky mule.
Check out these Kentucky Derby cocktails for more ideas of what to make.
- ¾ ounce mint simple syrup
- 2½ ounces zero-proof whiskey alternative
- crushed ice
- 1 mint sprig, for garnish
- Add mint syrup to a julep cup or rocks glass.
- Add half the whiskey alternative. Stir together.
- Top with crushed ice. Pack it into the cup.
- Add the rest of the whiskey alternative.
- Top with more crushed ice and garnish with a mint sprig.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 1 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 168Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 3mgCarbohydrates: 2gFiber: 0gSugar: 1gProtein: 0g