Not quite Kentucky Derby time, but then again who’s to say the Mint Julep has to be restricted to some kind of mascot status? Or, for that matter, restricted regionally? Yes, the south is likely the best at the Julep—because they’ve cared the most, and passionately—for years. But considering how simple it is to make, the Julep should be welcomed into any whiskey-lovin’ home.
Question is: which whiskey? Per cocktail historian and general dude-not-to-be-messed-with-when-it-comes-to-cocktails Dave Wondrich, the contentious history of Julep construction (bourbon, rye, or brandy) shouldn’t really matter at this point. Which is to say, go with your personal preference.
That said, since whiskey (or brandy) will be the only thing on display beyond fresh mint and just a tiny bit of sugar, you won’t want to go far too bottom shelf, or reach too high up either. Something right in the middle, not too expensive, but not too flat: rich with rounded character so all that refreshing crushed ice won’t dilute your whiskey into a puddle of minty tastelessness.
A bourbon with soft notes of vanilla and subtle fruit, with drying spice and oak. You generally won’t find a bottle for more than $30, if that.
A bit more expensive but you’ll get depth with intermingling chocolate, fruity and toffee notes balanced out with rye spiciness and barrel notes. Fresh mint will easily be at home here.
Single Barrel means just that—the whiskey was taken from one barrel (whereas small batch whiskies like the Knob Creek are made from blends of barrels). This one’s pretty perky with rye, with vanilla and some softness from the corn taming things. Soft sweet spice overlaid with cooling mint and ice. Yes please.
Heaven Hill Rittenhouse 100 Proof Rye – BEST VALUE
Packing rye flavor—spices sweet and savory, fruit, peppery heat—for about twenty bucks. With some punchier flavors, and 100 proof, this one balances out with slow dilution and fresh sugary mint.
An easy yes, for a $20 (tops) bourbon that’ll work well in a cocktail, with fresh soft notes of pear and a bit of apple skin softened with light brown sugar and some plucky rye in the mash bill. Not subtle in alcohol but that’s what makes it a decent candidate for an icy frosted Mint Julep.
At 90 proof and 95% rye (that’s a lot, and the minimum required is 51), Bulleit isn’t rye-shy. It still has soft florals and subtly sweet spice on the nose that mingles into the palate. A dry, spiced finish would be perfectly accented by some cool mint and a nice southern draaaaawl.
Woodford Reserve Double Oaked Bourbon – BEST SPLURGE EXPERIMENT
You could absolutely go with straight Woodford Reserve, but this is our splurge category, and the Double Oaked is a not entirely unreasonable splurge: maturation in two separate charred barrels, you get a sweet warm explosion of caramel and toffee, chocolate, nuts, fruit and spice. Not at all a go-to for a classic Mint Julep—but an interesting experiment, since chocolate and mint kind of work together anyway…