Mint Juleps and Mojitos awaken your senses with their fresh-mint perfume that eases its way down your throat with a seductive warmth only liquor can provide. Both drinks were born below the Mason-Dixon line, yet they've cultivated distinctly different reputations. Mojitos have experienced a renaissance at bars nationwide in the last decade, while Mint Juleps are often reserved for genteel occasions and of course, the Kentucky Derby, that renowned horserace attended by the well-heeled, kicking off May 6 this year. Ask craft cocktail artists how the two spiked drinks compare, and their answers are as muddled as the mint.
"The Mint Julep is kind of like the Mojito of the southeastern United States," according to mixthatdrink.com. It’s a refreshing combination of mint, sugar, bourbon, and water, perfect for sipping on hot days. The major difference between them is that the Mint Julep uses bourbon instead of rum, the cocktail enthusiast site says.
"No it's not. Are you kidding me?" argues award-winning craft mixologist Jeffrey Morgenthaler in his "Mint Julep - NOT a Mojito Made with Bourbon" video, part of his The Morgenthaler Method mixology series on smallscreennetwork.com. "In the food world that would be like saying, you know, a classic French steak tartar is just grocery store sushi, but with beef."
Morgenthaler, bar manager of Clyde Common in Portland, Oregon, was reacting to a popular YouTube video of a Miami bartender making a mojito with Rose's lime juice and Sprite, while also saying a Mint Julep is like a Mojito but with bourbon. If Morgenthaler had to pick any drink to compare the Julep to, it would be something more, well, old-fashioned.
"It's an Old Fashioned with mint instead of bitters,"Morgenthaler says of his beloved Mint Julep.
Dushan Zaric — who co-owns acclaimed NYC watering holes Employees Only and Macao Trading Co., runs a bartending academy, and is an advisor for Liquor.com. — seems to agree more with Morgenthaler on the Julep, although he adds an optional shake of bitters. Employees Only was named the world’s best cocktail bar at the 2011 summer Tales of the Cocktail conference in New Orleans
Mint Juleps and Mojitos both have fresh mint sprigs as garnishes, and ask you to gently muddle fresh mint with superfine sugar or simple syrup (sugar dissolved into water). Muddling is just pushing down on the leaves with a spoon or wooden muddler, which releases the mint oils to mingle with the sugar. But that's about when the similarities stop.
Old-timey Mint Juleps use Kentucky-style bourbon and tons of crushed ice. "Mint Juleps are cocktails you build right in the glass," Zaric says in his "How to Cocktail: Daiquiri, Mint Julep and Mojito" video story on Liquor.com. After muddling, you pour in the bourbon, and then add crushed ice. As you pile on the ice Slushee-style, it sinks into the glass, making the outside of the tall water glass (or even more old-fashioned, the polished pewter cup) frost up, which is an important characteristic. Then you pile on more crushed ice.
"It's like a little snow cone effect on top," says Morgenthaler, who crushes his ice in a food processor.
Mojitos, which Zaric says originated in Havanah, Cuba, call for rum, ice cubes, freshly squeezed lime juice, and soda water. Once everything is combined except for the soda water, you cover the cup and shake. After pouring your concoction into your serving glass, you fill the remaining space with soda water.
So you see, several ingredients and techniques differentiate these two minty, warm-weather cocktails. Mojitos are especially refreshing in the summer, and many people like to drink Mint Juleps in late spring and at Kentucky Derby celebrations. His favorite, Mint Juleps, are really easy to make, Morgenthaler says.
"Apparently it's also really easy to screw up," he says. "But it's a Mint Julep. It's delicious."
Try some of our recipes that fall along the lines of these celebrated cocktails, with twists and turns along the way.
1. Mint Julep
Some Julep fans will gasp if you muddle the mint, but we like releasing the mint oil with a little muddle in this Kentucky Derby cocktail tradition. Get our Mint Julep recipe.
The Mojito became such a Cuban standard during the 1930s and 1940s that it earned such celebrity adherents as Errol Flynn, Nat King Cole, and Lou Costello. Get our Mojito recipe.
Using rye whiskey, this summery cocktail also muddles the mint, but adds ripe apricots for a more fruity finish. Get our Apricot Whiskey Smash recipe.
This is another julep-mojito fusion, but it swaps basil for mint as the fresh herb, plus there's lemon juice. Get our Basil and Rye recipe.
5. Bourbon Sour
This cocktail isn't much like a mint julep or a mojito, but it's got bourbon. Making your own sour mix elevates the drink to the classy occasion. Get our Bourbon Sour recipe.