Forget the horses, forget the ladies in giant hats—nothing says Kentucky Derby like a mint julep. It's a perfectly balanced cocktail: Bourbon, mint, sugar, and gently melting ice, strong at first and (depending on how long it takes you to drink it) sweetly sippable by the bottom of the glass. But bourbon isn't the only spirit that can play this game: the julep is part of the family of cocktails known as smashes, where mint and crushed ice combine with any number of sweetening agents and spirits. Here are our favorite julep and smash recipes.
The Thousand-Dollar Mint Julep is the official recipe of the Kentucky Derby. The simple recipe calls for three ounces of bourbon and two tablespoons of mint simple syrup served over crushed ice and garnished with a sprig of mint. To make an old-school Antebellum Mint Julep, replace the bourbon with cognac, a spirit popular in early America. The Wild Ruffian takes the cognac julep and adds peach preserves for a little extra fruity sweetness.
From the basic smash recipe you can make all sorts of variations. For a Swedish-inspired take on the julep, mix mint-infused aquavit with rich dark rum and demerara syrup. If you'd prefer some North African flair, try the Kentucky vs. Morocco, a smash made with raisin- and currant-infused bourbon and a simple syrup flavored with coriander, ginger, peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves, and cayenne.
This is just the beginning of the world of smashes. Check out the collection of all of our favorite julep and smash recipes.