For the most refreshing bourbon cocktail, it doesn’t get better than this sweet tea mint julep! Classic Southern sweet tea is muddled with fresh mint and mixed with bourbon to make a picnic-perfect drink that's always a crowd pleaser. Whether you’re celebrating the Kentucky Derby, Father's Day or just need a cooling sipper for a night on the patio, this sweet tea bourbon cocktail is great for either occasion.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
Puts an extra festive spin on a classic Southern cocktail: It’s not a Kentucky Derby party without a mint julep in hand, but adding a unique touch to this traditional drink always makes for a more memorable signature cocktail. With the addition of the sweet tea, you won’t find a more authentically Southern cocktail for the occasion.
Makes for easy entertaining: Not only can you prepare this sweet tea mint julep ahead of time, but you can make it in a large-batch pitcher. This keeps your bartending duties to a minimum, so you can spend your time enjoying good company.
Gives bourbon a refreshing warm-weather makeover: If you love my chai old fashioned or sparkling apple cider-bourbon cocktail, you might think of bourbon as more of a fall and winter drink, but this sweet tea mint julep proves bourbon deserves its place among the margaritas and mojitos of the world as a refreshing warm-weather cocktail. When you’re in the mood for something different on a hot day, make a batch of some sweet tea juleps.
Bourbon: For a proper mint julep, make sure you use bourbon, not just any whiskey. Bourbon is distinctive from the rest of the whiskey family in its majority corn makeup and oak barrel aging. These elements make bourbon the sweetest of the whiskey family with vanilla and caramel notes. It’s just not a julep without bourbon.
Sweet tea: While you can certainly use store-bought sweet tea, we’ll walk through how to make our own. In addition to tasting fresher, this allows you to control just how sweet you make your tea.
Fresh mint: Make sure you have extra on hand for a garnish. While garnishes are typically optional for a lot of drinks, it’s a must for a mint julep. With every sip, you get a delightful whiff of fresh mint that’s absolutely part of the drinking experience.
How to Make Sweet Tea
Step 1: We start by adding some sugar to a large pitcher and setting it aside with some tea bags ready to go (photo 1).
Step 2: In a tea kettle, we bring water to a boil. Once the tea kettle starts ringing, we add the water to the sugar and give it a quick stir to dissolve the sugar (photo 2). This won’t take much effort since the water is so hot.
Step 3: Now we drop in the tea bags and let the tea steep (photo 3). I prefer to use family-size tea bags for ice tea, but individual bags work as well. Once it steeps, we pour in some cold water, and then we’re ready to make the rest of our mint julep iced tea.
How to Make the Drink
Step 4: From here, we add fresh mint leaves to the serving cup, pour in the bourbon and muddle the mint leaves (photo 4).
Step 5: For our next step, we add the prepared sweet tea mixture and fill the julep cup halfway with crushed ice. Save the cubes ice for an old fashioned. Now we give it a stir to chill and melt some of the ice for dilution, and then fill the cup with more ice, making a mound on top (photos 5-7).
Step 6: Before garnishing, we place a fresh mint sprig in the palm of our hand and quickly clap over it to release its fragrance (photo 8). We nestle the mint into the ice mound and add a lemon wedge or wheel. That way, if your guests love lemon juice with their sweet tea, they can squeeze it right into the glass.
Now grab your Derby hat and a seat outside and happily sip away!
Note: As promised, you can certainly make this perfect Southern cocktail as a pitcher instead of individual cocktails. Please see the recipe card for more detailed instructions on the pitcher version.
A family-size tea bag is specially made for larger batches. One family-size tea bag typically makes 1 quart of tea while an individual tea bag makes 1 cup. This makes for a more efficient way to batch tea, allows you to cut down on waste and save those individual bags for a time when you simply want a cup of tea.
Mint juleps are traditionally served in pewter cups. These cups are specifically designed for you to hold on the bottom or the top of the glass, allowing for a frost to form on the outside. As you can imagine, this keeps our julep icy cold on summer’s most blazing days.
If you don’t have a pewter cup, don’t let this stop you from enjoying a refreshing mint julep. Use an old fashioned glass instead.
Overworking the mint can lead to a bitter flavor, so we want to be gentle when muddling. It doesn’t take a lot of force to extract the mint flavor. Just a few twists will do the trick.
Don’t let tea steep too long. Otherwise, it can turn bitter. Five to 10 minutes is all you need.
Get everyone’s favorite crushed ice from Sonic. While you can use your own crushed ice, Sonic sells its famous crushed ice in 10-pound bags for a few dollars, so you’re sure to have enough ice on hand. And if you don’t go through it all in this round, save some to use with my Painkiller cocktail.
Add a fruity variation. Mint juleps are wonderful with fruit. Muddle ¼ cup of fresh fruit in the cup and then add the mint on top and lightly muddle. Peaches, berries and cherries are all delightful. You can also use an infused bourbon -- my cherry-infused bourbon or orange-vanilla bourbon would make for delicious additions.
Serve with a metal straw. With all the crushed ice, mint juleps are best enjoyed with a straw. A metal straw holds up well unlike paper straws, and they’re eco friendly.
I love sipping on this ice tea mint julep with a light appetizer, and this whipped ricotta dip is perfect. This dip features a squeeze of fresh lemon, which nicely complements the tea and adds a brightness to the rich bourbon, and the dip’s herbs are lovely with the mint.
If you’re looking for a sweet option, my coconut sugar cookies are perfect. The oak barrel lends vanilla, caramel and even coconut notes to the bourbon, making for just the right match. Plus, mint and coconut are wonderful together.
For the perfect Kentucky Derby cocktail on a warm day, you will adore every sip of this sweet tea mint julep. It’s your perfect spring and summer bourbon cocktail.
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Sweet Tea Mint Julep
- Jigger or small measuring cup
- Julep cup
- Bar spoon
- Metal straw
- 8-10 fresh mint leaves
- 2 ounces bourbon
- 4 ounces sweet tea store-bought or homemade (see notes for homemade directions)
- Crushed ice
- Fresh mint sprig for garnish
- Lemon wheel or slice for garnish
- Add mint leaves and bourbon to a julep cup. Muddle to release the mint oil.
- Pour in the sweet tea and fill the glass halfway with crushed ice. Stir to chill and melt some of the ice. Fill the rest of the glass with more crushed ice, forming a mound at the top.
- Place a mint sprig in the palm of your hand. Quickly clap over the mint with the other hand to release its fragrance. Garnish with the mint and lemon. Serving with a straw is recommended. Enjoy!
- Don’t let tea steep too long. Otherwise, it can turn bitter. Five to 10 minutes is all you need.
- You want crushed ice, not cubed ice, for a mint julep. The ice melts over time to make it extra refreshing. You can buy a large bag of crushed ice from Sonic, which is great for parties.
- Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.