As you may have gathered from my Local Foodie Friday series and mocktail posts, I am both sober and a Louisvillian. Living in the bourbon capital of the world and not being able to touch a drop of it can be hard sometimes. To keep myself creatively occupied, I like to work on making interesting alcohol-free drinks so I don’t feel left out in any situation. With spring coming up, Derby is on the brain, which means lots and lots of mint juleps. I like to mess with tradition so why not create a sober mint julep?
Like my chocolate and pecan banana bread which definitely does not break any copyright laws whatsoever, a mint julep is a simple concoction that could be enjoyed at any time of year. But thanks to the Kentucky Derby, it has reached legendary status. Though truthfully, you won’t usually see locals downing juleps. We generally prefer to take our bourbon straight so we can taste all of the flavor complexities (or get completely hammered, your mileage may vary).
The simplicity of a mint julep is astounding: just bourbon, simple syrup, and mint. I knew that developing this recipe for a sober mint julep would hinge on how I could recreate the taste of bourbon. For the uninitiated, there is a delightful smokiness and edge to the flavor that comes from being aged in oak barrels. One of the easiest ways to put this flavor into a sober mint julep is to use bourbon-adjacent products! There are amazing local producers that create alcohol-free products to remind you of the alluring spirit. For this recipe, I used Bourbon Black Tea from Elmwood Inn here in Kentucky. Their high-quality teas are some of my favorites, and this one perfectly mirrors that smoky flavor that I was searching for.
The other ways to add the classic bourbon flavor are with Bourbon Smoked Sugar or liquid smoke. The former is another great local product that I recommend, while the latter is a great way of introducing smoky flavor to dishes when you don’t have access to things like a grill. Liquid smoke is crazy potent, so be careful if you choose to go that route!
I made this recipe for Sourced Journeys’ newsletter. If you don’t already follow them, get on it (and not just because I’m helping with their social media)! A colleague there, Chloe-Rose Crabtree, is a pastry chef and knows her way around flavors. She suggested lapsang souchong, which is a smoked black tea, as a potential universal substitute to bourbon products. She was right! One of my favorite local tea makers, Sis Got Tea, has a delightful lapsang souchong that would fit this mocktail perfectly.
I hope this sober mint julep helps you have a Derby to remember! But seriously… it’s nice to remember a Derby from time to time. Just because some horses run around a lil track doesn’t mean you have to lose your wallet and your hat and your dignity. Kick back, take a sip, and revel in the fact that you’ll wake up tomorrow with your mind intact. Until next time, here’s to good drinking, great eating, and even better living.
Sober Mint Julep
- a pinch sugar (can use bourbon smoked sugar here)
- 6-8 leaves of your favorite mint variety
- 130 mL black tea, double strength (can use bourbon black tea or lapsang souchong here)
- a dash liquid smoke (optional; omit if using any bourbon products or lapsang souchong)
- 130 mL lemon-flavored sparkling water
- ice and lemon slices (for serving)
- Muddle the mint and sugar together in the bottom of a tall serving glass until fragrant.
- Brew your black tea double strength, and add 130 mL of it to the serving glass while still warm so the sugar dissolves. If using liquid smoke, add during this step.
- Add the chilled sparkling water and stir to incorporate everything, and add ice and a squeeze of lemon juice as desired. Serve chilled, with more mint and lemon wedges on the side if desired.