Bitter Julep


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Introduction to the Bitter Julep

The Bitter Julep is a sophisticated twist on the classic Mint Julep. It’s a cocktail that balances the smoothness of bourbon with the refreshing zing of mint and the complexity of bitters. This drink is not just a beverage; it’s a sensory experience perfect for warm weather indulgence.

Originating from the South, the Mint Julep has been a staple of Southern hospitality. The Bitter Julep takes this tradition and adds a layer of depth with the introduction of bitters. Whether you’re a bourbon aficionado or a cocktail enthusiast, this variation is sure to intrigue your palate.

Join us as we delve into the world of the Bitter Julep. We’ll explore its rich flavors, storied history, and the art of crafting this refreshing cocktail. Perfect for a lazy afternoon or as a classy choice for gatherings, the Bitter Julep is a drink that stands out in the world of cocktails.

Key Facts About the Bitter Julep

  • Alcohol Content: Approximately 40% ABV
  • Calories: Approximately 180 kcal
  • Carbohydrates: Approximately 4g
  • Preferred Glass: Julep cup or rocks glass
  • Typical Garnish: Mint Sprig

Interesting Facts about the Bitter Julep

The Bitter Julep is not just a drink; it’s a part of cocktail history. It’s a testament to the versatility of the Mint Julep, showcasing how a simple addition can transform a classic. The bitters add not only flavor but also a touch of medicinal history, as they were originally used for their restorative properties.

Did you know that the Mint Julep, the base of our Bitter Julep, has been the official drink of the Kentucky Derby since 1938? Over 120,000 Juleps are served at Churchill Downs over the two-day period of the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby. The Bitter Julep is a nod to this iconic tradition with a modern twist.

Bitter Julep Cocktail

Tasting Notes on the Bitter Julep

The Bitter Julep is a cocktail that offers a harmonious blend of flavors. The bourbon provides a warm, rich base, while the mint adds a cool, crisp freshness. The bitters introduce a subtle spice and a hint of citrus, creating a complex and layered taste profile.

This cocktail is ideal for those who appreciate the nuances of a well-crafted drink. It’s suited for a variety of occasions, from a celebratory toast to a relaxing end-of-day treat. The Bitter Julep is particularly popular among those who enjoy a touch of sweetness without overpowering the natural flavors of the spirits and herbs.

Whether you’re hosting a garden party or enjoying a quiet moment alone, the Bitter Julep is a versatile choice. Its refreshing nature makes it a favorite during the spring and summer months, but its robust flavors are also perfect for sipping by the fireside in cooler weather.

History of the Bitter Julep

The Mint Julep has a storied past, with roots tracing back to the 18th century. It began as a medicinal concoction before evolving into the beloved cocktail we know today. The Bitter Julep, while a more recent innovation, honors this history by maintaining the core elements of its predecessor.

The addition of bitters to the Mint Julep is a relatively new trend, emerging as bartenders and mixologists began experimenting with classic recipes. The Bitter Julep is a product of this creative exploration, offering a contemporary take on an age-old favorite.

As the cocktail culture continues to flourish, drinks like the Bitter Julep gain popularity. They represent a bridge between the past and present, combining traditional techniques with modern flair. The Bitter Julep is not just a drink; it’s a conversation starter, a piece of living history in a glass.

Bitter Julep Ingredients

  • Bourbon (59 ml): The soul of the cocktail, bourbon provides a rich, vanilla-laden canvas for the other ingredients.
  • Simple Syrup (15 ml): Adds a touch of sweetness to balance the strength of the bourbon and the bitterness of the bitters.
  • Angostura Bitters: A classic cocktail ingredient, bitters bring complexity and a hint of spice to the drink.
  • Mint Leaves (8-10): Fresh mint leaves are essential for their cooling effect and aromatic contribution.
  • Crushed Ice: Dilutes the drink slightly and keeps it refreshingly cold.
  • Mint Sprig: Used for garnish, it adds visual appeal and a burst of fresh mint aroma with each sip.

Did you know? The Bitter Julep’s use of Angostura Bitters links it to a long tradition of medicinal tonics, which were believed to aid digestion and improve health.

Preparing Bitter Julep

Bitter Julep Method

Muddling the Mint

Start by gently muddling the mint leaves with simple syrup and bitters in a julep cup or rocks glass. This process releases the essential oils from the mint, infusing the syrup with flavor.

Building the Drink

Fill the glass halfway with crushed ice, then add the bourbon. Stir well to ensure the drink is chilled and the flavors are well combined.

The Final Touch

Top the glass with more crushed ice, creating a dome shape. Garnish with a generous sprig of mint and serve with a straw, allowing the drinker to enjoy the full bouquet of the mint.

Serving Suggestion for the Bitter Julep

The Bitter Julep is traditionally served in a julep cup or a rocks glass. The metal cup enhances the cooling effect, while the wide brim of the glass allows the aroma of the mint to shine.

Garnishing with a fresh mint sprig is more than just decorative; it’s an integral part of the experience. As you sip, the mint’s aroma enhances the cocktail’s flavors, creating a multi-sensory enjoyment.

Elevating the Bitter Julep

  • Quality Bourbon: Select a high-quality bourbon with a flavor profile that complements the bitters and mint.
  • Homemade Syrup: Consider making your own simple syrup to control the sweetness and add a personal touch.
  • Ice Quality: Use freshly crushed ice for the best texture and dilution rate.

For an extra flourish, clap the mint sprig between your hands before garnishing to release additional aroma. This small step can significantly enhance the drinking experience.

Bitter Julep Finished Cocktail

Substitutions and Alternatives for the Bitter Julep

If bourbon isn’t your preference, rye whiskey can be a suitable substitute, offering a spicier kick. For those looking to reduce the sweetness, adjusting the simple syrup quantity or using a sugar-free alternative can tailor the drink to your taste.

Similar cocktails that share the Bitter Julep’s spirit include the Old Fashioned and the Whiskey Smash. These drinks also balance sweetness, bitterness, and herbal notes, appealing to a similar palate.

Add a Twist to the Bitter Julep

Infuse the simple syrup with additional flavors such as vanilla or citrus peel to add complexity. Another variation involves using different types of bitters, like orange or chocolate, to create a unique flavor profile.

For a seasonal twist, incorporate fresh berries or fruit syrups. This not only adds a new dimension of flavor but also introduces a pop of color to the presentation.

Preferred Liquors for the Bitter Julep

When crafting a Bitter Julep, the choice of bourbon is crucial. Brands like Woodford Reserve or Buffalo Trace are known for their smoothness and rich flavor, making them excellent choices for this cocktail.

For a more robust flavor, consider a bourbon with a higher rye content. This will complement the bitters and add a spicy note to the drink.

Similar Cocktails to the Bitter Julep

If you enjoy the Bitter Julep, you might also like the Sazerac, which features rye whiskey and Peychaud’s Bitters. Another similar cocktail is the Boulevardier, a bourbon-based drink with the addition of Campari and sweet vermouth.

These cocktails share the Bitter Julep’s complexity and are perfect for those who appreciate a balance of sweet, bitter, and aromatic flavors.

Food Pairings to Go with the Bitter Julep

The Bitter Julep pairs well with Southern-inspired dishes like fried chicken or shrimp and grits. The cocktail’s refreshing nature also makes it a great match for lighter fare such as salads or ceviche.

For a more adventurous pairing, try it with spicy foods. The sweetness of the cocktail can help balance the heat, creating a delightful contrast.

Bitter Julep FAQs

Can I use a different type of bitters? Yes, feel free to experiment with other bitters to find your preferred flavor combination.

Is there a non-alcoholic version of the Bitter Julep? For a mocktail version, substitute the bourbon with a non-alcoholic spirit or use a combination of tea and lemonade.

How can I make the Bitter Julep less sweet? Adjust the amount of simple syrup to your taste, or use a sugar-free syrup alternative.

What’s the best way to crush ice for a Bitter Julep? Use a Lewis bag and mallet for uniformly crushed ice, or pulse ice cubes in a blender.

Can I make a large batch of Bitter Juleps for a party? Yes, you can pre-mix the bourbon, simple syrup, and bitters, then muddle the mint and add ice when serving.

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Bitter Julep

A twist on the classic Mint Julep, the Bitter Julep incorporates a dash of bitters for a more complex flavor profile. This refreshing cocktail is perfect for sipping on a warm day.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 0 minutes
0 minutes
Course Cocktail
Calories 180 kcal


  • Julep Cup or Rocks Glass
  • Muddler
  • Bar spoon
  • Straw


  • 2 oz Bourbon 59 ml
  • 1/2 oz Simple Syrup 15 ml
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • 8-10 Mint Leaves
  • Crushed Ice
  • Mint Sprig for garnish


  • In a julep cup or a rocks glass, gently muddle the mint leaves with the simple syrup and bitters to release the oils.
  • Fill the glass halfway with crushed ice.
  • Add bourbon and stir well to chill and combine the flavors.
  • Top with more crushed ice, forming a dome shape on top.
  • Garnish with a generous sprig of mint.
  • Serve with a straw.


The Bitter Julep is a variation of the Mint Julep, which is the traditional drink of the Kentucky Derby. The addition of bitters adds depth and complexity to the flavor. For a less sweet drink, adjust the amount of simple syrup to taste.
Keyword Bitter Julep, bitters, bourbon, Classic Cocktail, Cocktail, Crushed Ice, Mint, mint julep variation, Refreshing

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