6 Easy Ways To Upgrade A Classic Mint Julep Cocktail

There's something about holding a chilled Mint Julep on a warm day that just makes your shoulders relax, causes you to exhale deeply, and makes even a rainy day seem brighter. The classic Southern concoction of bourbon, sugar, and mint served over crushed ice has a nice kick with the first sip, but as the ice melts into the drink, each sip gets friendlier and more mellow. Although the Mint Julep has a rich history and is a hands-down winner for every Kentucky Derby menu, there's no need to limit your enjoyment to its classical presentation. 

And if you want some variety, we've got ideas for how to upgrade a regular Julep into one that will be a front-runner in any drink lineup. The key to adapting a Mint Julep while keeping its recognizable profile is to alter it carefully. Play with the sweetener, change up the alcohol, or add a complementary flavor — but not all at once. Maintain that central boozy, minty aroma, and there will be no doubt that this is a Mint Julep with a special twist.

Blend the drink to make a slushy

A Mint Julep should always be served over crushed ice for maximum chill, and it just takes one extra step to blend the ingredients into an irresistibly frozen slushy. No adaptation to the ingredients is needed: You can even blend up the traditional muddled mint leaves if you've got a high-speed blender. The result is a light, minty green drink that's perfect for sipping with a straw. 

You could even blend these drinks ahead of time and keep the mixture in your freezer, either in individual cups or in a larger container to scoop out as needed. Pour the mixture into popsicle molds for a fun twist, but be sure to label them "adults only!" The frozen Julep will be like a sorbet, which you can allow to melt slightly for sipping or serve with a spoon for the ultimate Derby dessert. To make the presentation extra decadent, float a bit more bourbon over the frozen drink and garnish with extra mint leaves. 

Top it with sparkling wine or club soda to make a spritz

Making a spritz is the best way to lower the alcohol content of a high-proof cocktail, and that works for Juleps, too. Although Mint Juleps are traditionally served in a short metal cup, there's no rule that says you can't use a tall glass or a large, attractive wine goblet filled with crushed ice to create a Julep spritz. Simply make the Mint Julep as usual, adding the mint simple syrup, crushed ice, and bourbon in that order to the glass, and then top it off with a few ounces of sparkling wine or club soda.

It probably goes without saying that there's no need for a top-shelf wine here since you'll be competing with the strong tastes of mint and bourbon, but a nice, dry Prosecco or Champagne would do the trick perfectly. To make the drink even softer, add more club soda to the glass. No need to stir here; the bubbles will do the mixing for you.

Switch up the sweetener

Juleps are icy cold, boozy, and, above all, sweet to sip. The standard recipe calls for mint simple syrup, which is certainly not hard to make – just steep a handful of mint leaves in a mixture of equal parts water and sugar. For a richer background flavor, you could make mint and honey syrup using the same 1-part honey to 1-part water ratio. Maple and bourbon are terrific taste partners, so you could also consider swapping half of your simple syrup with maple syrup to get a more earthy flavor in your drink.

You can even consider other sweet liquids here, like traditional Southern sweet tea. Steep mint leaves with your tea bags and add a heavy pour of sugar to make a pitcher of minty sweet tea that can stand in for the simple syrup (and you've also got a drink alternative for your designated driver!). Purchased sweet tea could also work here, and an extra-long pour of tea would result in yet another option for a lower-alcohol version.

Swap the bourbon for another spirit choice

The toasty caramel tasting notes of bourbon and mint are so traditional that it might be shocking to learn that the Mint Julep was originally stirred up with a dose of brandy. The fruity overtones of brandy or Cognac make a nice change when you don't want to stray too far from what's now considered the standard. Spicy rye whiskey could add a nice sharpness to the sweet drink, too.

But if you want to stay with modern trends, there's also a world of sweet and delicious flavored whiskies to try in your next Julep. Using salted caramel whiskey or sweet cookie dough whiskey adds subtle notes of candy and vanilla, which could be your next favorite Julep. Other good sweet flavors for a Julep would be peach or honey-flavored whiskey, both Southern flavor favorites. Smoky s'mores whiskey brings subtle notes of campfire and sweet marshmallows to the drink – a refreshing version for those who like less sugary tastes.

Infuse fresh fruit flavors

Plenty of fruit flavors go well with mint — citrus of all kinds, stone fruits, and berries are all great choices to perk up your Julep. An easy way to get a fruity taste in the glass is by simply stirring a tablespoon of jam into the mint syrup before adding the ice. Orange marmalade, apricot jam, peach jam, or your favorite strawberry spread all complement both bourbon and mint, so they're natural considerations. 

Fresh seasonal fruits can also be simmered with your mint simple syrup and strained out for a particle-free flavor bomb. Make extra — you may just want to use the syrup in your iced tea, too. If you like the look of muddled fruit, for example, in a summertime peach Whiskey Smash, don't hesitate to crush fresh fruit at the bottom of your Julep cup. The bits of fruit will soak up the bourbon and become irresistible nibbles as you sip the drink.

Don't forget the classic combination of chocolate and mint

Chocolate and mint are such a beloved duo that nature even provides us with the combination! So, of course, when it comes to a minty Julep, we can't forget about getting a cocoa edge in there for chocolate lovers. There's more than one way to get that hint of chocolate, too. The most straightforward and least controversial would be using chocolate mint for your simple syrup. It's not the easiest herb to find, so other options for infusing the syrup include steeping cocoa nibs with the mint or stirring in a tablespoon of cocoa powder

These options add flavor without additional sweetness. A straight-up squeeze of chocolate syrup swirled on the glass makes an outstanding garnish as well as a flavor addition to a Julep. Chocolate liqueur or crème de cacao are other boozy chocolate flavors to consider – just watch the total amount of alcohol in the cup. Three ounces should be the upper limit to still have an enjoyable quaff that won't knock you out.