A Mint Julep Drinker’s Guide to Louisville

When in bourbon country, these four bars and restaurants will do you—and your mint julep—proud

When in bourbon country, these four bars and restaurants will do you—and your mint julep—proud. Whether the bartenders are stirring up pure classics or inventive twists, each of the following renditions of the Derby Day cocktail—the mint julep was named the official drink of Churchill Downs in 1938—is done right; that means fresh ingredients, good crushed ice, a frosty glass, and just a hint of sweet.

  • The Silver Dollar

    Photo: Courtesy of Proof on Main

    The mint julep on the menu inside this revamped nineteenth-century firehouse is a classic all the way down to the pewter julep cup the drink is served in. Made with Four Roses Single Barrel 100-proof bourbon, fresh mint, and demerara syrup—which is similar to basic simple syrup, but prepared using demerara, a light golden brown sugar originally from Guyana—the Silver Dollar julep is poured over a snow cone-like mound of shaved ice.

  • 610 Magnolia

    Photo: Courtesy of Proof on Main

    James Beard-nominated chef Edward Lee (also of Milkwood) has built a reputation pushing the boundaries of the Southern cuisine—and the bar program at 610 Magnolia is no different. Served in a clear glass rather than the customary pewter julep cup, bar manager Ricardo Barillas’ version has essentially the same basic building blocks of crushed ice, bourbon (he uses Jefferson’s Very Old), and mint, but the simple syrup is made with rosewater—a nod to the mantle of red roses draped across the champion Thoroughbred’s neck—and then cold-infused with more fresh rose petals, lemon peel, and just-picked mint.

  • Proof on Main

    Photo: Courtesy of Proof on Main

    Bartender Damien Cooke adds a dash of heat to the seasonal sipper at Proof on Main, inside Louisville’s 21c Museum Hotel. If you need a pick me up (or a put me down…depending on the time of day), order the Hot to Trot Julep made with demerara syrup spiked with cayenne, Pierre Ferand Dry Curacao, Fernet-Branca, and fresh mint.

  • Doc Crow’s Southern Smokehouse & Raw Bar

    Photo: Courtesy of Proof on Main

    Visit this Main Street barbecue joint for the Near Eastern Julep, made with ginger, basil, Becherovka (a Czechoslovakian liquor), and Old Grand Dad 100-proof bourbon. “The stronger the bourbon the better,” says head bartender Keri Smith. “A higher proof balances the sweetness better.” Smith also mixes up lemonade-tinged and classic versions of the cocktail.