This Spicy Mint Julep Is The Perfect Kentucky Derby Cocktail

It’s Derby time! Well, if you live in Kentucky, it’s been Derby time for the last two weeks, so we’re a little late to the party, even if the big race isn’t until Saturday, May 7th. But better late than never, and anyway, any time is a great time for a serious mint julep.

Last year, we taught you how to make a classic version with sugar cubes, Woodford Reserve (the official whiskey of the Derby), and a ton of mint. This year, we’re bending the rules a little and making a Habanero Mint Julep, or just a spicy mint julep if you want to keep things easy.

For this recipe, I’m making it a little easier at the base while adding in some serious heat! While the mint julep is the ultimate hot-weather drink, adding spicy heat to it helps the drink cool you off even more because, remember, spicy food and drinks cool you down by warming you on the inside so your body sweats and cools off on the outside. That’s just science. So let’s get mixing up some spicy juleps!

Also Read: The Top Five Cocktail Recipes of the Last Six Months

Spicy Mint Julep

Spicy Mint Julep
Zach Johnston


  • 3 oz. bourbon
  • 2 sugarcubes
  • 1 barspoon of mineral water
  • 6 fresh mint leaves
  • 1 thin slice of fresh habanero chili (with seeds for extra hot)
  • 3-4 dashes of Angostura Bitters
  • Crushed Ice

The best part of this recipe is that all the ingredients are easily sourceable. Any store will have habanero chili, raw sugar, and fresh mint. The Woodford Reserve and Angostura are in pretty much every liquor store from sea to shining sea.

Some people will insist that you crush the ice yourself for this drink. You can also buy crushed ice. It’s fine, though purists may complain.

Spicy Mint Julep
Zach Johnston

What You’ll Need:

  • Julep cup or rocks glass
  • Muddler
  • Barspoon
  • Paring knife
  • Jigger
  • Metal straw
Spicy Mint Julep
Zach Johnston


  • Add the two sugar cubes and one barspoon mineral water to the bottom of the julep cup. Use the muddler to break up the sugar cubes into the water to create a sugary base.
  • Slice one thin coin of habanero from the stem side of the fruit (if you want it extremely hot — like Nashville hot chicken turned up to 11 hot — then use two slices). Add the chili and six mint leaves to the sugary base and (kind of gently) muddle the mint and chili into the sugar base until the leaves are well-bruised and the chili is just starting to fall apart.
  • Add the three ounces of bourbon to the mix and stir until the sugar is mostly dissolved into the drink.
  • Fill the cup about 2/3 with crushed ice. Use the barspoon to stir the drink until the level of the cocktail is above the crushed ice in the cup.
  • Make a snowball of crushed ice in your hand and jam it on top of the cocktail, creating a dome over the cup.
  • Garnish with a bushel of fresh mint, the metal straw, and hit the ice with a few dashes of Angostura Bitters. Serve.

Bottom Line:

Spicy Mint Julep
Zach Johnston

I left the seeds in my mint julep and it was hot with a capital “H.” But still not quite “this is a stunt hot.” I like it that way. If you’re more on the side of just wanting an easy layer of heat in the drink, then deseed the chili and maybe only use half of a slice.

Anyway, the heat, mint, and sugar really blend well with the bourbon to create a super refreshing drink that you kind of don’t want to end. It was ice cold (the cup got that heavy layer of frost on it after a few minutes) but had serious heat to help you break out into the cooling sweat. Plus, I think mint and chili are underutilized in cocktails, especially the heat from the chilis part. This is a great combination that is perfect for watching the ponies, or just a hot day when you need to cool down.