Over the Top: The Kentucky Derby’s $1,000 Mint Julep

May 4, 2019

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Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY, is the place to be seen this weekend with the running of the annual spectacle that is the Kentucky Derby — the first leg of the Triple Crown, the hardest trophy in sports to win. The Derby crowd is known for being over the top — especially when it comes to women’s hats, which often get more attention than the horses. But this ethos applies to drink scene as well.

Each race in the triple crown — the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes — has its own signature cocktail, and the proper way to enjoy race day at The Derby is with a Mint Julep. According to CNBC, around 120,000 of the drinks — at $10 a pop — are sold at the race each year.

For those heading to the race and looking to up your game, head over to the racetrack’s Woodford Reserve $1,000 Mint Julep bar, where the Kentucky distillery offers a luxe version of the drink each year. While Woodford uses its own Reserve bourbon in the cocktail recipe, what the drink gets served in is really the star of the show: This year Woodford commissioned 145 — it’s the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby — custom silver and gold julep cups created by a local jeweler, which were sold in a presale for $1,000 and $2,500, respectively. While the gold cups have already sold out, word on the street is that a few silver cups are still available for purchase at the track.

Photo by Woodford Reserve Distillery
Photo by Woodford Reserve Distillery

So what does spending that kind of cash get you? There’s the cup itself, which is also your ticket to get inside Woodford’s exclusive Mint Julep tent, where you pick up your cocktail, plus access to a Woodford Reserve photographer to capture the experience. You also get to keep the box the drinks comes in, which is lined in jockey jersey silk.

Each year Woodford donates the proceeds from the $1,000 Mint Juleps to a charity. This year the proceeds will go to the John Asher Memorial Scholarship Fund at Western Kentucky University. Asher was the VP of racing communications and the spokesperson for Churchill Downs until his death in August 2018.

If you’re wanting to make your own Mint Julep for Derby day here is the Woodford Reserve signature recipe:

  • 2 oz of Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon
  • 2 bar spoons of inspired honey sweetener
  • 2 mint leaves
  • Garnish: Shaved honeycomb and a sprig of mint

Rub mint around the julep cup, expressing the essential oils and place the mint leaf in the bottom of the cup. Drizzle two bar spoons of honey sweetener in the cup, followed by two ounces of Woodford Reserve Straight Bourbon, mixing the ingredients together. Pack ice into the cup, followed by placing the sipping straw. Layer loose ice on top, with a splash of Woodford Reserve Straight Bourbon to settle your drink.

Want to catch the action in person next year? Here’s how one reader used points to score a bucket list trip to the Kentucky Derby.

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Featured Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

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