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This mint julep gets a unique flavor from a small amount of amaretto and depth from a hearty dash of Angostura Bitters. (Image: Courtesy Ocean Prime)

6 bartenders share their best mint julep riffs for derby parties

On Derby day --coming up on Saturday, May 4 -- a mint julep in your hand is just as de rigueur as a fancy hat on your head. And while the classic recipe will do just fine during the "Run for the Roses," why not up the stakes? These inspired variations hit the trifecta of boozy, festive and fun.

Rock & Roll Up

Recipe courtesy of Topher Taylor, Beverage Director, MXDC

Taylor’s riff ventures into Asia, replacing mint with Japanese shiso and adding sweet-tart yuzu to ramp up acidity. Rock & Rye is a nod back to the days when imbibers would add a piece of rock candy to sweeten their spicy rye whiskey.

  • 1.25 oz. Mr. Katz’s Rock & Rye
  • .75 oz. Domaine de Canton
  • .5 oz. agave syrup (equal parts agave nectar and warm water stirred to combine)
  • .75 oz. yuzu juice
  • 6 fresh shiso leaves
  • Splash soda water
  • Shiso frond, for garnish

Gently muddle 6 shiso leaves, yuzu juice and agave syrup in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Add the Rock & Rye and Domaine de Canton, add ice and shake until well-chilled. Strain into a copper mug over freshly crushed ice, top with a splash of soda water, stir and garnish with the shiso frond.

Sparkleberry Julep

Recipe courtesy of Darlin Kulla, Beverage Director, KNEAD Hospitality + Design (on the menu at Succotash)

"The Sparkleberry Julep came from our love of using seasonal ingredients from Chef Edward Lee’s kitchen and my obsession with Champagne,” Kulla says. “Chef makes the blackberry syrup for one of our desserts and I found that the sweetness of the berries pairs great with the mint in the Julep.”

  • 1.5 oz. Maker’s Mark Bourbon
  • 1 tbsp. blackberry sauce (*see Note)
  • .25 oz. lemon juice
  • .5 oz. demerara sugar
  • Splash Champagne or other dry sparkling wine
  • 10 mint leaves
  • 2 blackberries and a mint sprig, for garnish

Muddle the bourbon, blackberry sauce, lemon juice, mint leaves and demerara sugar in a Julep tin, then swizzle with crushed ice. Add a splash of champagne and top with more pebble ice to form a dome shape. Garnish with blackberries and a mint sprig.

*For the blackberry sauce
Mix 3 pints blackberries with .5 cup sugar, .5 cup maple syrup and the juice of 2 lemons. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Peach Julep Brunch Punch

Recipe courtesy of Drew Hairston, Beverage Manager, Dirty Habit

This Julep is heady, aromatic and oh so pretty. Though it might seem involved to make the syrup that goes into the cocktail, it makes a good-sized batch that you can use in other drinks including a champagne cocktail, breakfast martini and gin or vodka sour.

  • 1.5 oz. Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon
  • 1 oz. Chamomile-Yuzu Tea and White Peach Syrup* (see Note)
  • 4 sprigs fresh mint, 1 reserved for garnish

In a metal julep tin add the bourbon, chamomile-yuzu-peach syrup and 3 mint springs, and muddle gently. Fill the tin three-quarters of the way with pebble ice, and using a swizzle stick or bar spoon stir and agitate the ice to chill and add dilution. Fill the julep tin to the top with ice, adding a dome that reaches over the rim, and garnish with a mint sprig and metal straw.

*For the chamomile-yuzu tea and white peach syrup
Remove the pits and stems from 2 pounds of very ripe white or Georgia peaches, cut them into cubes and puree in a Vitamix or blender with 2 cups of distilled water until smooth. Add 1 tbsp of ascorbic acid to your peach puree to prevent oxidation and set aside. Make a strong tea from 10 bags of Mighty Leaf Chamomile-Yuzu Tea and 2 liters of water, allow to steep for at least 10 minutes and then remove the tea bags. Add 2 quarts of white sugar to the tea while it’s still hot, stir thoroughly to dissolve all the sugar and allow this mixture to cool. Whisk the tea and peach puree to combine. Allow the mixture to marry for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator, then strain it through a fine mesh sieve or chinois, discarding any large particles. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Tea Party Julep

Recipe courtesy of Lauren Mathews, Lead Bartender, Urbana

“The essence of a great mint julep is all in the spirit,” says Mathews. “Borough Bourbon is finished in rum casks which adds a nice flavor to a traditional julep." She goes on to add that shaved or pebble ice is best to dilute the cocktail, and stirring both incorporates the ingredients and lends that fun cocktail snow element.

  • 1.5 oz. Republic Restoratives Borough Bourbon
  • .5 oz. Earl Grey Tea-infused honey* (see Note)
  • .25 oz. peach liqueur
  • Mint sprig and powdered sugar, for garnish

Build the drink in a chilled rocks glass, adding crushed ice as you go until all ingredients are mixed and you have a little snow cone of ice on top. Garnish with the mint and sprinkle powdered sugar on top of the cocktail, including on the mint leaves.

*For the Earl Grey Tea-infused honey (recipe adapted)
Add 1 Earl Grey tea bag to 1 cup hot water, let steep until desired flavor is achieved and then remove tea bags. Add the tea to 1 cup honey in a small saucepan on low, stir until water and honey are mixed and syrup is thin. Remove from the heat and store.

Mint Julep

Recipe courtesy of Tim Manley, Beverage Manager, Ocean Prime

Manley believes lots of fresh mint--both in the drink and as a garnish--are the key to a great Julep. This one gets a unique flavor from a small amount of amaretto and depth from a hearty dash of Angostura Bitters. "For a final touch of sweetness, add a dusting of powdered sugar on top as your last step,” he says.

  • 2 oz. bourbon (they use Woodford Reserve)
  • .5 oz. simple syrup
  • .25 oz. DiSaronno Amaretto
  • 4-5 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • 8 mint leaves
  • Mint sprig and powdered sugar, for garnish

Add all ingredients except garnish in a mixing tin, add ice and shake vigorously to integrate mint and combine flavors. Strain over crushed ice into a rocks glass and garnish with the mint sprig and powdered sugar.

Blood Orange Mint Julep

Recipe courtesy of Justin Winfield, Mixologist, Red’s Table

Winfield likes to incorporate seasonal ingredients into his mint Juleps; other versions on the menu at the Reston, Virginia restaurant include rhubarb and hibiscus.

  • 2-3 blood orange wedges
  • 5 mint leaves
  • 2 oz. Bourbon
  • .5 oz. simple syrup
  • Blood orange wheel and mint sprig, for garnish

Muddle the blood orange wedges and mint leaves in a cocktail shaker. Add the bourbon and simple syrup, add ice and shake until well-chilled. Strain into a glass over fresh ice and garnish with a blood orange wheel and mint sprig.