The South will imbibe again

Your best bets for a Kentucky Derby party: Where to find the best mint juleps in town

Your best bets for a Kentucky Derby party: Where to find the best mint juleps in town

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Branch Water Tavern's Julep topped with powdered sugar Courtesy of Branch Water Tavern
News_mint juleps_Derby Day_April 2012_Ava julep
Ava's whiskey-based mint julep Photo by Rawad Semaan
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Reserve 101's julep Infused with mint and jalapeño Courtesy of Reserve 101
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News_mint juleps_Derby Day_April 2012_Branch Water julep
News_mint juleps_Derby Day_April 2012_Ava julep
News_mint juleps_Derby Day_April 2012_Reserve 101 julep

Grab your hats and get ready to bet on the ponies . . . it’s derby time! And what's the Kentucky Derby without an iconic mint julep?

The traditional beverage of Churchill Downs, nearly 120,000 juleps will be consumed at the track this weekend. Here in Houston, we're placing our bets on the top mint juleps in town, from classic to modern. Refreshing and stiff, sip slowly if you want to make it to the finish.

 The key to a good julep is to serve it up ice cold. For the finishing touch, it’s topped off with even more crushed ice, mint sprig and powdered sugar. 

Branch Water Tavern’s take on the mint julep is made with muddled mint leaves, 1/2 oz. simple syrup and 2 oz. bourbon. The glass is filled with crushed ice — the key to a good julep is to serve it up ice cold. For the finishing touch, it’s topped off with even more crushed ice, mint sprig and powdered sugar.

"It's a classic, simple, clean drink," says Ornella Ashcraft of Anvil Bar & Refuge, who won the Angel's Envy Mint Julep Competition at Double Trouble on Monday night. "A lot of people were more focused on the spirit. I wanted to take flavors from Mexican culture."

Ashcraft's "Angel de Pistear" julep features bourbon infused with cilantro, herbs from a traditional Mexican adobo mixed with agave and sugar mixed with mezcal on top. The unconventional julep will share the stage with Anvil's more traditional version at the bar's Caballo Day party on Saturday, starting at noon.

Reserve 101 uses the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby, Woodford Reserve, in their mint julep, though they've made it their own by infusing it with mint and jalapeño. Agave nectar is added to taste.

If whiskey is more your speed, Ava Kitchen & Whiskey Bar’s recipe includes 1.5 oz Bulleit Rye Whiskey, 0.25 oz simple syrup, 3 oz. citrus soda and mint leaves. The ice and mint leaves are muddled and then the whiskey is poured. Last comes additional simple syrup plus the citrus soda.

What's your favorite julep?