When the track is open in Lexington or Louisville all I can think of are mint juleps, but at home, my preferred mint julep is this Chocolate Mint Julep. It’s a fast and easy julep cocktail for any beginner and just requires bourbon, chocolate liqueur or whiskey and chocolate bitters. And a mint sprig of course.
I often make complicated juleps with layers of flavors and garnishes to excite the senses. But after one or two of those, the people at my house are often happiest with the simple combination of chocolate and mint together in a julep. If you need a primer on the Mint Julep, check out my article How to Make a Classic Mint Julep or if you want to step into creating your own variations, How to Make your Own Riff on the Mint Julep.
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Mint Juleps and the Kentucky Derby
So what makes a perfect Kentucky Derby Julep? For me, it’s a combination of flavors that bring to mind the freshest herbs of spring and a stellar combination of chocolate and mint. Mint Juleps have long been associated with horse racing, and over 120,000 are sold on Derby Day in Louisville. It’s likely there are at least another 100,000 sold throughout Louisville during the week prior to Derby in a typical year.
At one point in time, the silver julep cups were awards to the winning jockeys, and since whiskey was king during horse racing’s hey-day it makes sense the julep was the way participants and spectators celebrated a win.
In fact, journalists bemoaned the fact that the track experience didn’t include juleps during Prohibition, and the Mint Julep was made the official drink of the Kentucky Derby in 1938 – a few years after Prohibition was repealed.
Syrups for the Julep
While you can make a mint syrup for this julep, I prefer to muddle mint in my simple syrup in the julep cup. This expresses the aromatic oils from the mint and washes the cup in the scent of mint.
I often make my best bourbon mint julep with just plain simple syrup and muddled mint leaves. But if I’m feeling fancy, I’ll make a syrup from Bourbon Barrel Food’s Bourbon Smoked Sugar to use. It imparts a slightly smokey taste to the cocktail that brings out a little more of the oak in the bourbon as you sip it.
If you have a bed of chocolate mint, (yes, that’s a type of mint), steep your simple syrup in the chocolate mint. You can make the simple syrup on the stove with equal parts water and sugar, then add several large sprigs of chocolate mint and let them steep for 20-30 minutes. Or, you can add the chocolate mint to a small jar of simple syrup and let it sit 24 hours in the fridge. It’s a great flavor addition and strengthens the flavor of mint in the cocktail.
Flavor Pairings for this Chocolate Mint Julep
My favorite time to sip this julep is as the Triple Crown Pie (chocolate, bourbon, pecan pie) is served just before the race is run. It’s even sweeter when listening to My Old Kentucky Home before the call to post.
I make my Triple Crown Pie with toasted pecans and a chocolate graham cracker crust. My version is incredibly boozy and sweet. It is not balanced. It is a sugar bomb. Just the way I like it.
Best Bourbon for a Mint Julep
The choice of bourbon for a mint julep is serious business. And if I’m making juleps on Derby Day for guests it’s doubly important. For a chocolate julep, I always choose a bourbon that pairs well with chocolate. For me, my favorites are Old Forester, Elijah Craig Small Batch, Four Roses Single Barrel or Woodford Reserve (specifically the special edition for Derby).
I always prefer Kentucky Bourbon for a julep on race day, but if you’re celebrating across the country, use a local bourbon. Sometimes bourbons that are higher in proof or a little rougher shine in a julep because of the crushed ice diluting the drink and keeping it cold.
How to Make a Mint Julep on Derby Day
While you could use a chocolate mint liqueur for this cocktail, I find it best to use fresh mint to control the exact amount of mint in the julep. If you have access to fresh mint from your garden, use it. It’s far better than the mint you’ll find in the grocery store.
To make this, muddle the mint leaves with the chocolate whiskey (my preference is Ballotin’s Original Chocolate whiskey) and chocolate bitters in a julep cup (after you’ve rubbed mint along the inside and rim). Add bourbon, fill with crushed ice, and stir a few times. Add a straw and a mint sprig right next to each other, and for this Chocolate Mint Julep, garnish with a thin mint cookie and a chocolate mint candy.
Tips and Trips to Make the Best Kentucky Derby Julep
- Use a bourbon you love.
- Always serve it in a metal cup. Always. It keeps the drink frosty cold.
- Place the straw right next to the sprig of mint. You need to smell the mint with each sip.
- Spank the mint on the back of your wrist or hand before you place it in the cup. This wakes it up.
How To Make a Batch of this Derby Chocolate Mint Julep
In an empty bourbon bottle, add the following:
- 2 cups bourbon
- ½ cup Ballotin Chocolate Whiskey (or Chocolate Mint Whiskey), or creme de cacao
- 10-14 dashes of chocolate bitters
- ¼ cup water
Agitate and put in the fridge for several hours to chill. If you’re serving in a pitcher, add fresh mint leaves to the pitcher for decoration. To serve, pour over crushed ice in a small cup and garnish with a fresh sprig of mint and a cookie, all right next to the straw. This makes about 8 servings.
Other Cocktails You Might Enjoy
- Peanut Butter Banana Julep
- Blackberry Basil Julep
- Pineapple Rum Julep
- Persian Julep
- Classic Mint Julep
- Breakfast Julep
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Recommended Bar Tools
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You probably already have these, but you may need them, too:
Chocolate Mint Julep
- 2 oz bourbon
- 7 large mint leaves
- ½ oz Ballotin chocolate whiskey or creme de cacao
- 2 dashes chocolate bitters
- Garnish: mint sprig, chocolate mint cookie or candies
- Run 1 large mint leaf along the inside of a julep cup and its rim. Combine chocolate whiskey or creme de cacao, mint leaves, and bitters in the bottom of a julep cup and muddle lightly. Add bourbon and fill with crushed ice. Stir once or twice, top off the cup with more crushed ice and add a fresh sprig of mint next to the straw and a chocolate mint cookie.