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.
This version of the classic three-ingredient cocktail—which combines three parts bourbon to one part of a simple syrup bracingly infused with fresh spearmint—is sanctioned by the Kentucky Derby itself as their official mint julep recipe. Get the recipe for Thousand-Dollar Mint Julep »
Cynar’s vegetal bitterness, derived primarily from artichokes, pairs nicely with mint and grapefruit soda in this refreshing julep variation.
Before the Civil War made foreign products hard to come by in the South, French cognac was the preferred liquor in a mint julep.
In addition to using caraway and dill—the most traditional flavors for aquavit—in Sweden, home cooks make the spirit with an infinite variety of spices, herbs, and other flavorful botanicals. Get the recipe for Swedish Mint Julep
Inspired by a recipe developed by mixologist Lynn House of the Chicago restaurant Blackbird, this is an ideal cocktail to show off the fruity side of Cognac. Peach preserves meld beautifully with the spirit’s soft sweetness, while mint adds a bright finish. Get the recipe for The Wild Ruffian »
Shiso leaves muddled with spicy Thai red chile and slices of cooling cucumber make for a refreshing and festive cocktail.
This sweet (but not too sweet) cocktail is a terrific vehicle for Chartreuse; when we tested it, it converted even the most adamant opponents to the herbal, bright-green liqueur. Get the recipe for Chartreuse Smash »
A hit of ginger liqueur takes the traditional mint julep and turns it squarely on its ear: spicy, sweet, and modern, with a citrus tang from the wedge of lemon, it’s a fresh twist on the old classic.
This recipe takes the crushed ice classic a step further, into dessert territory.