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Bartenders Tell Us Their Go-To Bourbons To Mix Into A Mint Julep


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The Super Bowl has hours of pregame before any action on the field, but at least NFL games last a few hours. The Kentucky Derby has six-hours of pregame leading to a horse race that only lasts a few minutes. The upside here is that since the race is so short, you’ve got a lot more time to enjoy Mint Juleps. You know, the classic cocktail from the Bluegrass State made with bourbon (obviously), sugar, water, fresh mint, and crushed ice (usually served in a traditional silver or pewter mug).

The julep is the official drink of Churchill Downs (since 1939) and its arrival proclaims the official start to the “real” spring. You know, the one with the actual nice, warm, sunny weather that almost feels like summer. And also lots of booze.

Just like you, bartenders enjoy making (and drinking) mint juleps. But as with any cocktail, they have their own specific spirits they like best when mixing one. That’s why we asked some of our favorites to tell us their favorite bourbons to use when things are getting minty.

Russell’s Reserve 10 Year

Josh Cameron, head bartender at Boulton & Watt in New York City

“At home, this is always Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Bourbon. This is hands down the best bourbon for cocktails, with its balanced rye and spicier barrel notes (from perfect aging). Given I am rye-leaning bartender, there are under only three bourbons I would ever even think to recommend for cocktails. Russell’s Bourbon stands out alongside ryes for cocktail making, above the rest of the bourbons on the market.”

Woodford Reserve

Alex Schmaling, head bartender of Beacon Tavern in Chicago

“What is my go-to bourbon to mix into a Mint Julep and why? I love Woodford Reserve — its richness and weight stand up to mint, which is a pretty powerful herb.”

Blanton’s

Casey Lyons, lead bartender at Pacific Hideaway in Huntington Beach, California

“Julep deserve a fancy bourbon. I’d use Blanton’s all day. It doesn’t have an angry bone in its flavor profile with an incredible mouthfeel and soft notes that lend towards herbs. Good luck trying to sip it as slow as possible, it’ll almost be too delicious to hold back from pounding.”

Maker’s Mark

Rael Petit, beverage director at The Williamsburg Hotel in Brooklyn

“I typically go for Makers Mark when it comes to bourbon, as it contains a nice vanilla note that I enjoy playing with when I craft mint juleps.”

Old Forester 1897

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Wednesday’s choice.

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Neil Minger, head bartender at Ellington’s Mid Way Bar & Grill in Nashville

“This is a cocktail that tends to drink way too sweet for my taste so I like to have a bourbon with a nice bite and bitterness that will still play well with the sugar. Old Forester 1897 is an easy choice. It’s high proof and a great product that works with mint and sugar.”

Larceny

Daniel Condliffe, lead bartender at JSix in San Diego

“What’s my go-to bourbon to mix into a Mint Julep and why? For mixing bourbon in a sweeter style cocktail, I like Larceny out of Heaven Hill. It’s a whetted bourbon so it’s its own sweetness as well as a little spice.”

Basil Hayden

Erica Williams, bartender at Catalina Kitchen in Rancho Palos Verdes, California

“My go-to bourbon to mix into a Mint Julep would be Basil Hayden. Basil Hayden bourbon whiskey features a hint of mint and a bit of spice. I think this would be the best option for the cocktail as the ingredients would go hand in hand instead of overpowering each other.

Angel’s Envy

Andrew Erickson, bartender at L27 in Nashville

“My favorite bourbon to add to a Mint Julep is Angel’s Envy. With this bourbon being finished in port wine casks it lends a chocolate note to the Mint Julep. This helps add depth of flavor and keeps me excited to take another sip.”

Smooth Ambler Old Scout Single Barrel

Lacy Hawkins, Brand Ambassador of Monkey 47 Gin

“I look forward to Derby Day, especially so I can drink a couple Smooth Ambler Old Scout Single Barrel Mint Juleps. This bourbon comes in at 99 proof and can really stand up to the sugar and dilution of a mint julep. Smooth Ambler Old Scout Single Barrel has apple, leather, and cherry pipe tobacco notes and when I’m not drinking it in a mint julep, I’m simply enjoying it over ice.”

Four Roses Single Barrel

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Little difficult to hold but sure is easy to sip.

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Jason O’Bryan, spirits director at The Florence in San Diego

“Mint Juleps have a complexity problem — it’s essentially an old fashioned with the spiced complexity of bitters replaced by the pleasant (though monotonous) flavor of mint. For that reason, I like a bourbon that has enough rye to add in that spice, and enough strength to fight the sweetness. I’d go with Old Forrester 100 proof or, if I was feeling wealthy, Four Roses Single Barrel. “

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