Step up your Derby entertaining with the simple addition of muddled fruit to your bourbon cocktails with this fast and easy Strawberry Mint Julep. It’s a quick variation of the classic julep that’s a fun twist guests will love, especially when they get to sip on the bourbon-soaked muddled strawberries at the bottom of a frosty derby julep cup.
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First, What is a Mint Julep?
The Mint Julep, the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, is derived from a very ancient Persian drink of sweetened rosewater that became a popular term to refer to medical tonics that were sweetened with sugar and flavoring to make them more palatable in the middle ages. For more on the history of the mint julep, see my article How to Make a Classic Mint Julep.
By the time they came to refer to the drink in the American South, they were known as a cocktail of spirits, sugar, herb (usually mint), and ice (if you had it). You might use whatever spirit was at hand, and for the wealthy that might be fine brandy or rum. But for those less well-off it was was likely a whiskey, and you needed that sugar and mint to mask the rough edges of farmer-produced whiskies.
And as whiskey and bourbon came to prominence in the south it became the spirit of choice, even for the wealthy.
The traditional mint julep as served today is a combination of whiskey (typically bourbon), sugar, mint, and ice. It’s served in a metal cup with a paper straw and a healthy garnish of fresh mint sprigs that tickle the nose with each sip.
For some, drinking a Mint Julep can be a lackluster experience. The Kentucky Derby Mint Juleps I’ve had at the track, over-diluted, with limp mint and uninviting whiskey have not always been enticing. But ones I’ve had at events and parties, or the ones I make at home and served in a frosty cold metal cup are easy and fast to sip.
That’s what I’m teaching you here.
And a great whiskey mint julep can sneak up on you since you sip it fast to enjoy it while it’s perfectly cold and frosty.
Why a Strawberry Julep Is a Beautiful Combination of Flavors
One of the easiest ways to play with the julep is to create a muddled berry julep. While you can use blackberry, blueberry or even raspberry, there’s something about the combination of muddled strawberry, sugar, fresh mint, bourbon and a scoop of crushed ice that is magical.
Strawberries and mint are a classic combination. Think of a dessert of strawberries over angel food cake topped with fresh whipped cream and a mint leaf. Perfection.
While we don’t always think of bourbon and berries together, the fact that so many berry desserts are improved with the flavors of vanilla tells us that bourbon will be a winning combination with berries.
How to Make the Strawberry Mint Julep
There are two ways to make a Strawberry Julep. You can make your julep as you normally would, lightly muddling strawberries with your simple syrup and mint before adding bourbon and ice to a metal julep cup. This gives you the tart and sweet accent flavor of strawberry in the bourbon cocktail.
Or, you can make a strawberry simple syrup, and use that in addition to the muddled strawberries and mint in the creation of the julep. This makes the Strawberry Mint Julep much more vibrant with strawberry flavor.
Making the Strawberry Simple Syrup
Instead of making a cooked strawberry simple syrup, I prefer to make a cold process syrup. This gives the syrup the taste of sugared sliced strawberries instead of cooked strawberry jam.
I combine a pint of sliced strawberries with 1.5 cups of sugar and mix them together. I let the two sit in the fridge for a day or so. The sugar draws the syrup out of the berries and creates a vibrant red syrup with the flavor of fresh strawberries. I strain the syrup into a clean glass jar and save the strawberry slices for ice cream or desserts.
Tips to Garnish and Serve Your Strawberry Julep
It’s not a julep if you forget the herb garnish, and for this bourbon cocktail, we want to use a large sprig or two of fresh mint. If you’re making this around the time of the Kentucky Derby, your mint patch should be coming back to life just in time for the first weekend in May.
Make sure you spank your mint sprigs across the back of your wrist or clap them between your palms to wake them up before you place them as a garnish.
If you have them, make sure to use metal julep cups to let the julep get icy cold and stay frosty between sips. The combination of the alcohol and sugar in the drink lets juleps drop below freezing and frost the outside of the metal cup. The best juleps are so cold you have to old them by the rim to keep your hand from going numb!
Finally, make sure that you place the paper straw right next to the mint garnish so each sip of the julep leaves you inhaling the scent of the fresh mint right next to the straw.
Other Cocktails You Might Enjoy
Juleps are the classic bourbon cocktail so you can find plenty on my site:
- Peanut Butter Banana Julep
- Chocolate Mint Julep
- Blackberry Basil Julep
- Pineapple Sage Julep
- Breakfast Julep
- Triple Crown Pie Julep
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Recommended Bar Tools
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You probably already have these, but you may need them, too:
Strawberry Mint Julep
- 2 oz bourbon
- ½ oz strawberry simple syrup** or regular simple syrup
- 3 strawberries, quartered
- 5-6 mint leaves
- Garnish: sliced strawberries, mint sprigs
- Combine quartered strawberries and simple syrup in a julep cup and muddle well. Add mint leaves and muddle lightly. Add bourbon, stir once, and fill with crushed ice. Garnish with a healthy sprig or two of mint, with a straw right next to it and a strawberry on top. Serve and drink immediately.
- 1 pint strawberries, sliced
- 1 cup sugar