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The 11 best bourbons for making the perfect mint julep

Want to make the tastiest mint julep possible? Start with one of these outstanding Kentucky bourbons

Mint julep
Bhofack2/Getty Images

We tend to associate the mint julep with the Kentucky Derby, but the southern cocktail is great all summer long, no matter where you reside. Mixing bourbon with refreshing mint and serving it in an ice-cold tin is hard to do wrong with this iconic beverage.

While simple to make, a mint julep’s quality comes down to the quality of the whiskey. In this drink, there’s not a lot you (or anything) can do to mask a terrible spirit and still have a potent and palatable potable. For any good mint julep, you need good bourbon, plain and simple.

To help steer you in the right direction, we’ve put together a list of the best bourbons for mint julep cocktails this year. As you’ll notice, almost all these bourbons come in at least 100-proof, or 50% ABV. This helps the bourbon stand up to the melting crushed ice over the course of the drink. A lower-proof bourbon will work, but it’ll taste watered down. To stick close to Churchill Downs, too, we only selected bourbons made in Kentucky.

Four Roses Single Barrel
Four Roses

Four Roses Single Barrel

One of the best in the Four Roses line (at least we think so), Single Barrel is a high rye content (35 percent) bourbon that comes in at 100-proof and explodes with flavor right from the outset. In a Julep, this translates to a sustained honey and oak flavor that goes incredibly well with the sweetness added by sugar syrup.

Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Whiskey 100 Proof
Knob Creek

Knob Creek 100 Proof

Nutty on the nose with a sweet oaky body, Knob Creek 100 Proof is a prime example of what good can come at 100 proof. The slight fruity sweetness on the front and back end of the palate pair perfectly with the mint in the julep. These flavors only get better as the Julep melts a little bit.

Wild Turkey 101
Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey 101

The flagship Wild Turkey bourbon, 101 has the body and character that is perfect on its own or in a variety of drinks (the mint julep, obviously, included). Vanilla and oak flavors contribute a nice mix to the mint and sugar, leaving you with an all-around delicious beverage.

Maker’s Mark Cask Strength
Maker's Mark

Maker’s Mark Cask Strength

The Maker’s Mark you know and love, but at cask strength. A full-bodied wheated whisk(e)y, the molasses and dark fruit flavors that come out hold their own, even through dilution from ice. If you’re looking for a stronger bourbon, this is one to check out for your Juleps.

Woodford Reserve Bourbon
Woodford Reserve

Woodford Reserve

This wouldn’t be a mint julep bourbon list without the official bourbon of Churchill Downs, where the Kentucky Derby takes place. Woodford Reserve is crafted by master distiller Chris Morris to work with a wide variety of flavors, mint included. Each year, they put out a custom label for the Derby.

Old Forester 100 proof
Old Forester

Old Forester Signature 100 Proof

Another standard when it comes to delicious bourbons, Old Forester’s story goes to 1870 when George Garvin Brown made the brand’s first bottled bourbon (older even than the Kentucky Derby). The 100 Proof expression has coffee and chocolate on the nose, followed by sweet apple and toasted oak on the palate. For those that don’t want to make their own mint julep, Old Forester also puts out a premixed variety — the official drink of the derby — which comes in at 60 proof.

New Riff Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
New Riff Distillery

New Riff Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

This high rye bourbon from New Riff (a member of the Kentucky’s B-Line), is the core expression from the distillery and is a big, bold, and savory bourbon that stands up in any cocktail. The full-bodied butterscotch and vanilla notes pair well with the sugar in the julep and you won’t have to worry about the ice diluting the 100-proof spirit.

Michter’s US-1 Limited Release Barrel Strength Bourbon

Michter’s US-1 Limited Release Barrel Strength Bourbon

While we’d normally suggest this special release from Michter’s be consumed neat or with a cube (perhaps even in their downtown distillery cocktail bar), this is the derby, a special occasion in Louisville, so we have added it to our list and encourage you to use a little to celebrate. Barrel strength, this release is rich in flavor and on the palate, with caramel, candied fruits, vanilla, and some oak notes all making themselves known. In other words, it’ll add nice depth to your Julep without having to add other ingredients.

Barton 1792 Distillery 1792 Full Proof Bourbon bottle
Barton 1792 Distillery

Barton 1792 Full Proof

Barton 1792 Distillery has award-winning full proof bourbon, which is yet another great option when making a Julep. You’ll find notes of caramel and spice lead caramel, oak, and vanilla — all with a nice backbone.

Rabbit Hole Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Rabbit Hole Distillery

Rabbit Hole Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Coming out of one of the newer distilleries in downtown Louisville, Rabbit Hole Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is made from a mash bill not often seen in bourbon — 70% corn, 10% wheat, 10% malted honey barley, and 10% malted barley. This mix of grains gives a wonderful honeyed flavor to the bourbon, which accentuates the mint in a Julep nicely.

Baker's bourbon
Baker's Bourbon

Baker’s Bourbon 107 Proof

When it comes to making a stellar classic cocktail like the mint julep, we tend to trust the folks at Death & Co. Its original recipe calls for Baker’s Bourbon, a flavorful bourbon that shows everything from toffee and French vanilla notes to peppercorn and spice. There’s a complex, candied element to this spirit, meaning you may want to half your simple syrup volume so you can really enjoy it.

Need a refresher on how to make a mint julep? Here’s the classic recipe. Don’t forget to pace yourself when drinking cask-strength spirits, as they pack a lot of heat.

Editors' Recommendations

Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
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