Don't Like Mint Juleps? This May Be Why

May 2, 2019

Editor's note: This story first appeared in May 2018. We're republishing it here with updates for the 2019 Derby on Saturday, May 4. 

If you're not a fan of the mint julep—an icy-minty-bourbon concoction popular around the Kentucky Derby—it's likely for good reason: you just haven't had a good one. 

That's at least according to Fred Minnick, a bourbon aficionado who has written numerous books on the biting liquor, an Oklahoma native, current Louisville resident, and frequent visitor to Cincinnati. 

"What I've found is that a lot of people are just making the mint julep wrong," he tells WVXU. The problem, he says, is over-muddling the mint, which in turn, well, muddles the taste. 

"The issue is really creation centric," he says. "People extract all the oils out of the mint and it just overpowers it, and so people have a really negative experience." 

Here are Minnick's three tips on how to do it right: 

Muddle In Moderation

Muddle the mint, but do so with constraint. Pressing the mortar to the mint too frequently expresses too much of the herb's oil, which can cause the drink to have a toothpaste-like taste. 

Or, don't muddle at all. "Tear off four or five leaves and slap 'em," Finnick says. "I mean get the leaves in your hands and slap 'em. That alone is enough to express the oil." You'll know this to be true because your hands will smell like mint well after your drink is poured, he adds. 

Ice Is Key

"Ice is crucial to a julep," Minnick says. "You want small ice, something that will be very nicely concentrated in the glass, almost like a Snow Cone." 

Get A High-Quality Bourbon

The final component is, of course, bourbon, and Minnick says you need a good strong one. "The bourbon needs to stand up to the mint, so you need something really powerful," he says. "At least 90 proof." He recommends Old Forester, Weller Antique 107, Russell's Reserve and Woodford Reserve, which happens to be the official sponsor of this weekend's Derby.

Minnick says he expects Churchill Downs will serve between 130,000 - 150,000 mint juleps, with all the mint used grown locally in Louisville.

"I was at the track yesterday and had one of the best juleps I've ever had at Churchill Downs," he says. "It's made perfectly because they're not having people muddling the mint, they're just sticking it in there to get the essence." 

Ready to give the mint julep another run? Try Minnick's recipe here