Alba Huerta’s Sparkling Julep

A bourbon-less alternative to the Derby classic

Photo: Julie Soefer

When her award-winning Houston bar, Julep, had to shutter at the beginning of the pandemic last spring, Alba Huerta had a unique solution: If people couldn’t come get a cocktail, she’d bring the cocktails to them. “We got a cocktail truck for home delivery,” Huerta says of the ice-cream-truck-for-adults she and her team drove around Houston, selling gallons of punch, Hurricane pops, and French 75s by the dram. “The truck is refrigerated, and of course we had to make our menu more concise—nothing that needed shaking and only things that travel well.” 

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And while the to-go truck will continue to make rounds, on Saturday, May 1, Huerta will finally reopen Julep for the first time in more than a year for their annual Derby Party, a chance to celebrate the cocktail that gave the bar its name. 

Huerta’s menu boasts all kinds of variations on Julep’s eponymous drink beyond the classic, including a peach blend and one with apple brandy and Jamaican rum. But her sparkling iteration stands out. “It’s a refreshing, gorgeous, daytime cocktail based on a champagne julep,” she says. “It has lower alcohol content, so it’s perfect for day drinking. And we all have leftover sparkling in the fridge we can repurpose.” If you can’t find a Gamay or other red for this recipe, Huerta recommends a sparkling rosé, although anything sparkling will do the trick. 


  • Sparkling Julep (Yield: 1 cocktail)

    • 10 mint leaves

    • ½ oz. turbinado syrup (ingredients below)

    • ¾ oz. cognac

    • 2 oz. sparkling red, plus ½ oz. for topping off (Huerta uses FRV100 Gamay or a sparkling rosé)

    • Crushed ice

  • For the Turbinado Syrup:

    • 2 cups turbinado (Huerta uses Sugar in the Raw turbinado)

    • 1 cup water

  • For the Garnish:

    • 2 or 3 mint sprigs

    • 1 small bunch champagne or other tiny grapes (optional)

    • Powdered sugar (optional)


  1. To make the turbinado syrup, combine the turbinado sugar and water in a saucepan and stir. Place over medium heat and bring to a gentle boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat and simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved and the syrup is slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool. Transfer to a glass container with a tight-fitting lid and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. 

  2. Place the mint leaves and syrup in a tall Collins glass and lightly press with a muddler. Leave the muddler in the glass and add the cognac and 2 ounces of sparkling red, pouring them over the muddler to rinse it off. Fill the glass a little more than halfway with crushed ice and stir with a bar spoon 15 to 20 times. Add more ice to completely fill the glass. Top off with the remaining ½ oz. of sparkling red. 

  3. To garnish, press the mint sprigs between your fingers to release their aroma and tuck them into the ice next to the straw. Place the champagne grapes alongside the mint and dust them with powdered sugar.