“‘I made a mint julep at home and it didn’t taste the same as the ones you make in your bar.’ I hear this all the time,” laughs Alba Huerta, owner of the lauded craft cocktail bar, Julep, in Houston, Texas.
“A classic julep recipe is simple,” she continues. “There’s only mint, liquor, syrup, and ice. But there are a few hurdles to making it taste the same at home as the ones you’ve had in a bar.”
We asked Huerta to share her tips for mixing perfect mint julep every time.
Tip 1: The Right Ice
“In a bar, we have pellet ice,” she says. “Most people don’t have that at home and dilution is important in this cocktail.” Huerta has two solutions. First, you can invest in a Lewis Bag. “I like the ones from Cocktail Kingdom. You just put the ice in it and crush it into chips using any hard, wooden instrument, like a rolling pin.” If you’re hosting a large Derby party and want to save yourself some work, she suggests going to a Sonic Drive-In for their pellet ice. “It’s perfect julep ice and they’ll sell it by the bag.”
Tip 2: The Right Mint
“There are several types of mint on the market now,” Huerta says. “The easiest to find and most abundant is peppermint, which is fine to use. But if you have access to Kentucky Colonel mint, that’s my favorite option.” And use it carefully to coax flavor from the leaves. “Never bruise the mint. That will create a bitter flavor. You just need to lightly press the mint between your hands or very lightly muddle. That mint then lives in the bottom of the cup for the duration of the drink, giving off continual light aromatics and flavor.”
Tip 3: The Right Bourbon
“Some people love a more wheated bourbon, some like more rye,” Huerta says. “Because the julep is so simple, you can use different combinations. My choice is to combine two different bourbons into one drink. I like to use equal parts of Four Roses Yellow Label, which is an 80 proof, and Old Grand-Dad 100.”
And if you run out of bourbon?
“I would reach for anything on your home bar that saw time in a barrel,” she says. “You can use an aged rum or an aged tequila, even.”