The Kentucky Derby is coming up and across the country, everyone is pulling out their pewter cups and stocking up on fresh mint in order to prepare to make the event’s signature drink, the mint julep.
While simple in its creation (mint, sugar, and spirit), the type and quality of the spirit that you put into the julep matters. With nothing to mask off-flavors, you’re not going to want to make your julep with the cheap stuff—sorry plastic handle of whiskey, you’re good for other purposes, just not this.
To help steer you in the right direction, we’ve put together a list of whiskies you should be using in your juleps this year.
One of the best in the Four Roses line (at least we think so), Single Barrel is a high rye content (35%) 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.
Another high rye bourbon (36%, to be exact), Redemption’s High Rye is quite young and spicy, when it comes to bourbon. Aged no less than one year, it exhibits a lively nose and a palate that has some mint notes to it—obviously a good thing when one of the primary ingredients in the drink is fresh mint.
For this bourbon, Diageo uses a Solera system (which is very common in Sherry and Madeira), which means that there is at least a little bit of older bourbon (pre-1992) in each and every bottle. Good on its own, this light bourbon is also quite refreshing in a julep.
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.
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.
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. They even have a flavor wheel that you can use to see how mint and other flavors interact and come about in their bourbon.