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Proof on Main in Louisville, Ky.

They’re the perfect (and the only real) cocktail to cheer Derby Day with. And as such, it’s only fitting that Louisville, ky., is our pick for the best place to find one.

Few things are as quintessentially Kentuckian as a mint julep, the bourbon-based drink that serves as the official cocktail of the Kentucky Derby. So, if you’re headed to Louisville for Derby Day on May 7, here are five great spots to try a julep in the birthplace of bourbon.

Julep Lore
Though the julep has evolved into a popular bourbon-based cocktail, colonial farmers originally enjoyed the drink with rum. The distinctive silver julep cup also has ties to the Derby — a nod to the early 19th century, when cups were frequently awarded at fairs and races.
The Old Seelbach Bar
Located within the historic Seelbach Hotel in downtown Louisville, this dark, genteel bar dates back to the early 1900s and is stocked with a staggering selection of julep-worthy bourbons. 500 S. Fourth St., (502) 585-3200, www.seelbachhilton.com

Proof on Main
This offbeat Contemporary American bar/restaurant emphasizes local and seasonal ingredients in both its food and its drinks, such as the fruity Julep Down Under (Four Roses Bourbon, mango puree and house-made eucalyptus syrup). 702 W. Main St., (502) 217-6360, www.proofonmain.com

732 Social
Look for hipster tattoos and cutting-edge drinks — such as Henri’s Julep, made with Rittenhouse Rye, absinthe, brandy, gomme syrup, mint and a brandied cherry — at this craft cocktail bar. 732 E. Market St., (502) 583-6882, www.732social.com

Equus & Jack’s Lounge
Ask expert bartender Joy Perrine, who has worked behind the stick for five decades and calls herself “the Bad Girl of Bourbon,” to fix you her special julep drink. 122 Sears Ave., (502) 897-9721, www.equusrestaurant.com

Maker’s Mark Distillery
Located about an hour outside downtown Louisville, this distillery has a small bar for visitors. The spiritmaker also sells a premixed Mint Julep Bourbon product, made each year just for Derby season. 3350 Burk Spring Road, Loretto, (270) 865-2099, www.makersmark.com

Building the Perfect Julep

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Kentucky claims to have perfected this lively libation, made with bourbon, fresh mint, sugar, water and lots of crushed ice. Three tips for the ultimate mint julep:

The cup: The preferred mint julep vessel is a frosty silver or pewter julep cup, although a tall Collins glass is also acceptable.
The mint: Many bartenders prefer spearmint over peppermint. Some julep aficionados enjoy debating whether or not to muddle (crush) the mint, which brings out a more assertive mint flavor.
The ice: Use shaved or finely crushed ice. You can make your own at home by wrapping cubes in a clean dish towel and crushing them with a rolling pin or frying pan.

DIY Mint Julep
  • 10 to 15 medium to large fresh mint leaves
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 2½ ounces (5 tablespoons) bourbon
  • 3 mint sprigs
Muddle mint leaves, sugar and water in a chilled julep cup until the leaves are crushed and the sugar is dissolved. Fill glass with crushed ice. Pour in bourbon; stir thoroughly. Add more crushed ice to within ½ inch of rim; garnish with mint sprigs and serve with straw.