10 Tasty Bourbons For Mixing Mint Juleps Ranked

The Kentucky Derby is undoubtedly the biggest day of the year for horse racing. Not just because the best two-year-olds in the nation race for the most prestigious prize in the sport. But also because millions of people who don't know a superfecta from "Superbad" throw parties, don crazy hats, and drink mint juleps to celebrate the occasion.

The mint julep — a fairly simple concoction of mint, sugar, crushed ice, and bourbon — came to be associated with the Kentucky Derby when Churchill Downs began serving them in commemorative glasses in 1937, per Good Morning America. Since then, the two have become synonymous, and while you could certainly enjoy a mint julep any day of the year, the first Saturday in May almost demands one. If you're throwing a Derby party, though, choosing the right bourbon for your mint juleps will go miles in your assessment as a host. So we chatted with John "Fitzy" Fitzpatrick, the "Spiritual Advisor" at Warren American Whiskey Kitchen in Delray Beach, Florida, got some advice, and now present the ten best whiskeys for mixing a mint julep.

10. Hudson Whiskey Bright Lights, Big Bourbon

Bourbon is whiskey that, by law, has to be 51 percent corn or higher. But this distillery just outside Poughkeepsie — the first standalone distillery and whiskey producer in New York since prohibition — goes all in with a 100% corn profile. With such a high corn content, one might expect the stuff to be overly sweet, which according to John Fitzpatrick, makes for an overpowering mint julep.

"Any time you're adding a sweetening agent, you need something that'll stand up to it," he says. "It has to be complementary to the syrup or it's just a sweet bomb."

Hudson Whiskey's Jay McInerny-inspired bourbon surprises with a muted sweetness, and has a finish of "drying oak, unbuttered popcorn, and a hint of mint," according to Bourbon Culture. That subtle mint flavor makes it a prime bourbon to use in a mint julep, as it offers just enough of a complimentary note to blend with the herb nicely. It's a smaller name, and a Yankee distillery might upset some traditionalists. But if you want something different that'll be a conversation piece at your Derby party, this could be the move.

9. Stillhouse Black Bourbon

Say you're rolling up to a Kentucky Derby party, and want to bring along a bottle that a) won't be too heavy and b) won't break into 10,000 pieces when someone gets a little too excited during a stretch run. Stillhouse is a winner, packaged in stainless steel (a little like olive oil) but still maintaining all the stuff that's great about bourbon.

Possibly the most interesting thing about Tennessee's Stillhouse Black Bourbon, beyond its bottle, is that it's softened with coffee. This finishing makes it an ideal bourbon to pair with another Kentucky Derby staple: cigars. What's more, according to Leaf Enthusiast, "The coffee 'mellowing' doesn't strip the character of the Bourbon away." Further, the slight bitterness of the coffee holds back the overt sweetness of the mint julep. And though the flavor will be slightly different than the mass-produced mint juleps you find at the racetrack, it'll be an original idea that works nicely.

8. Black Button Four Grain Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Rochester, New York, might not be the first place one would expect to find a great mint julep bourbon. The unique New York delicacy that is the garbage plate, sure. But bourbon? Seems a little far north for that. But one would forget that Rochester is the gateway to the Finger Lakes, one of the foremost wine regions in the U.S. And has the second-most breweries per capita of any city in the Northeast, according to Vinepair. The point is, Rochester knows how to make booze, so the fact the city boasts a stellar bourbon really isn't all that surprising.

Black Button's Four Grain Straight Bourbon eschews overt sweetness, which John Fitzpatrick says is the one thing you don't want in a bourbon for mint juleps. Whiskey Wash remarked that it has notes of fennel and blackberry, which add a complexity of flavors to the cocktail. It observed that the product is not too sweet, and boasts a smooth finish and hints of melon. That smoothness allows this bourbon to hold back and not overpower the mint and sugar flavors. But the maltier profile means you won't be recoiling from sugar overload either.

7. Bookers

Bookers has an interesting history, as it originated as a friends-and-family only bourbon from Jim Beam Master Distiller Booker Noe, per Whiskeyjug.com. Noe hand selected the barrels in which the stuff was aged, and it was bottled at cask strength to give it a whopping 121-130 proof. (For context, a classic bottle of Jim Beam is 80 proof.) In 1992, the general public was able to buy Bookers, and since then it's developed a bit of a cult following for its intense flavors and sharp, high-proof flavor. John Fitzpatrick notes that when Jim Beam started selling the stuff straight from the barrel in the 1990s, people thought they were crazy, as a 130-proof bourbon would be a bit much for most drinkers. Now, it's the go-to for those intensely into bourbon.

"If you've got somebody hard core, give 'em Bookers," advises Fitzpatrick. "As the proof goes up, all the flavors get exaggerated, and Bookers is proof of that."

In a drink like a mint julep, the intensity of a bourbon like Bookers is ideal, because the complex and robust flavors stand up well against the high sugar and herbal notes.

6. New Riff Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Compared to some of the other mint julep bourbons on this list, New Riff is a relatively new kid on the block, only opening its doors back in 2014, per Whiskey Wash. Like most new distilleries, it used Indiana-made MGP whiskeys for its initial releases under the OKI name. Now that its original creations have had enough time to age, New Riff has made a splash with its Bottled in Bond offerings. That means it was made in a single distillation season by a single distiller (not a blend of mass-produced whiskeys); has no materials added other than water; and was securely stored for four years, per Whiskeyculture.com.

This Bottled in Bond whiskey is strong on spice, which again allows it to stand up to the intense flavors of a mint julep. Per Breaking Bourbon, it has "subtle baking scents," with a light baking spice on the palate and strong rye spice on the finish. It makes for a julep with a little more kick, and an almost-Christmasy undertone, like a little slice of the holidays in May. Not to confuse it with eggnog, but the more cinnamon forward flavor gives your julep a layer that few at your party will expect.

5. Wild Turkey 101

Wild Turkey is a Kentucky classic, the quintessential mass-drinking bourbon that's strong enough to taste good, but light enough to use as a cocktail base. Part of the reason is that Wild Turkey 101 is transferred from the still to the barrel at a lower proof than it's bottled, allowing the flavors of malt, rye, and corn to shine through, per the Daily Beast. "It's a perfect balance of proof for a lot of people," says John Fitzpatrick. "A hundred and one is just enough for a light heat, but the flavors are all amped up and robust."

The flavors he's referring to are the classic vanilla, caramel, toffee, and cinnamon. And at 101 proof, the ones in Wild Turkey all come out strong enough to balance the mint julep's sweetness. Ftizpatrick also notes he's especially sensitive to using too soft a bourbon for mint juleps, as one with little flavor makes the whole cocktail turn to mush. But Wild Turkey 101 has enough depth and oomph behind it to make a nicely balanced drink.

4. Barton 1792 Full Proof

Not to be confused with "foolproof," full proof whiskey is bottled at the same proof that it went into the barrel, meaning it's not diluted down between the aging process and when you drink it, according to John Fitzpatrick. This allows for often-higher alcohol content, and far more robust flavors. Barton 1792 bourbon clocks in at a whopping 125 proof, and offers one of the boozier options for your mint juleps.

"If you've got somebody who is a more experienced drinker and you want to kick it up a notch, go with Barton," Fitzpatrick says. "If you want something with a backbone, that's really bold and not just a sweet bomb, this is going to make a great mint julep."

That said, he also advises that mint juleps made with Barton 1792 Full Proof can be sneaky; they pack a serious wallop but won't taste like they do. So be careful, and maybe limit yourself to one or two then switch to something lighter.

3. Woodford Double Oaked

Woodford Reserve makes for an especially fun bourbon to enjoy during the Kentucky Derby, as its annual sponsorship of the Run for The Roses results in a cool commemorative bottle, per MSN. And while that Distillers Select bottle makes for a nice little tie-in with the race, John Fitzpatrick advises a different Woodford offering for mint juleps.

"The Double Oaked is next level deep on all the classic bourbon flavors — vanilla, butterscotch, caramel, and a little mint in there," he says. "It's been my go-to for years because it's so robust and complements the bitters so well."

Though the Double Oaked isn't a high proof bourbon — it only clocks in at a smidge over 90 proof — it still gives the cocktail some depth and character. And because it's not as boozy as some of the other selections on this list, if you're planning to make a full day out of the Derby, this allows you to set a longer pace.

2. Four Roses Single Barrel OBSF

When people say they've had Four Roses Single Barrel, it's a far broader statement than it sounds on its surface. John Fitzpatrick tells Mashed that there are actually ten different versions of Four Roses Single Barrel, as two different mash bills are paired with five different proprietary yeast strains manipulated for different flavor effects. If you're not quick at math, that makes ten different varieties of bourbons.

OBSF uses mash bill B, which Fitzpatrick explains is a higher-rye to create an entire line of single barrel bourbons. It then combines with yeast strain F, designed for strong aromatics. The combination creates a fruity, caramel profile with strong hints of mint. Which makes it a no-brainer for mint juleps. At 117.8 proof, or so, Fitzpatrick says the bourbon is bold enough to withstand a barrage of simple syrup. Not uncommon in many mint julep preparations.

"Maybe it's because I drank so much as a bartender," he laments. "But when you take a bourbon that's 80 or 90 proof, and dump a bunch of simple in it, you're just killing it. For me, it's just awful."

1. Maker's Mark Cask Strength

For years, there was but one Maker's Mark, the traditional, red-wax bottle the world got to know and love. But John Fitzpatrick explains that eventually the Samuels family, who created and cultivated the brand, opted to offer this slight variation in 2014, a slightly stronger take on the original that tastes like it was taken straight out of the cask. This gives it a bolder, deeper flavor, effectively bringing more oomph to the classic Maker's Mark profile.

"I always felt the Maker's Mark was a little too light for an Old Fashioned, much less a mint julep," says Fitzpatrick. "Then when they came out with the Cask Strength, that comes in at like 118 proof, that's perfection. Any time you're adding a sweetening agent, you need something like that."

Though it's newer to the market than the iconic Maker's Mark original, Cask Strength has become a bartender's favorite for the reasons Fitzpatrick notes. While the higher proof may mean you're drinking fewer of them, that's not always a bad thing. And certainly makes your mint juleps a case of quality over quantity.