The Second Fastest Way to Blow Money at the Kentucky Derby Is a $1,000 Cocktail

One safe Derby Day bet: This mint julep will be the most extravagant race day drink. It’s also second only to gambling in speedy ways to empty your wallet. Net proceeds, though, go to charity.

The Second Fastest Way to Blow Money at the Kentucky Derby Is a $1,000 Cocktail

Horse racing, hats, and mint juleps are the name of the game on Derby Day.

Photo by Thomas Kelley/Shutterstock

It’s not every day that you drop four figures on a cocktail, but come May 5—the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby—you can be one of the select few to splurge on a $1,000 mint julep.

The mint julep—a blend of bourbon, simple syrup, mint, and crushed ice—is the traditional drink associated with the famous horse race and Churchill Downs, the racetrack where it takes place in Louisville, Kentucky. While the horses compete in what’s dubbed the “fastest two minutes in sports,” thousands of fans in the grandstands place bets with the signature cocktail in hand. To cement your baller status, though, you can opt for a $1,000 version of the mint julep that’s served in a special edition cup and designed by Kentucky bourbon distillery Woodford Reserve, the presenting sponsor for this year’s Derby. Which raises an importat question: What exactly goes into a $1,000 cocktail?

“That’s a lot of money to spend on a mint julep, but it’s a unique cocktail,” explained Elizabeth McCall, assistant master distiller for Woodford Reserve. “It’s our take on the mint julep that you can only get on Derby Day in the $1,000 mint julep cup. The other great thing is it’s for a charitable cause, the Jennifer Lawrence Arts Fund.”

McCall worked alongside the brand’s master distiller, Chris Morris, to craft the beverage, which incorporates Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon. The duo sourced all ingredients from Woodford County, where the distillery is located, including local farm-sourced mint and sorghum, used for the simple syrup. “The mint with the Woodford Reserve really brings out the dark fruit character of the bourbon,” McCall said of the spicy and woody whiskey. “It makes the cocktail bloom.”

Then there’s the drink’s extra-special ice. Made from the same spring water used to produce Woodford Reserve bourbon for more than two centuries, it’s sourced from Pepper Spring on the distillery’s property. Laden with limestone, the rich minerality of the water makes it perfectly suited for the bourbon’s fermentation process. Plus, the water is iron-free, meaning it won’t add any off-putting flavors to the cocktail as the ice melts.

To top it off, McCall and Morris will serve each cocktail with three spray roses and one other important garnish: a rose petal pulled directly from the actual Garland of Roses, the garland that’s draped over the winning Derby horse. The distillers will help sew the garland in the days leading up to the race, hand-selecting the 105 petals to include on the 105 drinks for sale.

Beyond these embellishments, the cocktail’s most tangible value is found in the commemorative cup in which it’s served. Designed by Louisville jeweler From the Vault, the hand-casted, sterling silver cup features 18-karat gold-plated decorations depicting Kentucky scenes like the twin spires of Churchill Downs and the state’s famed limestone water sources (popular with bourbon distilleries and horse breeders alike). Each cup comes with a wooden box, as well as a protective wrapping derived from the same silk used to make jockeys’ jerseys.

So plunking down a grand will get you one tasty drink, a novelty cup, a piece of the Garland of Roses, and a feel-good vibe, since net proceeds from the cocktails’ sales go directly to the Jennifer Lawrence Arts Fund. Yes, that Jennifer Lawrence. The actress and Kentucky native set up the nonprofit in 2016 to support a variety of organizations that promote arts education. McCall explained that the Woodford Reserve team was attracted to the fact that the foundation works with multiple causes. “They don’t just touch one nonprofit in town,” she noted, adding, “It expands our reach and support.”

If you’re headed to Churchill Downs with some serious bank, you can prepurchase your cocktail online—note that only 105 are available and they’re likely to sell out prior to Derby Day. Once ordered, you’ll receive an invite to a special tent where you can pick up your statement cocktail at any time on May 5. If you’re watching on TV—or aren’t expecting a Derby-win windfall to pick up the pricey tab—you can recreate the $1,000 mint julep at home via the official recipe, below. (Good luck sourcing the single rose petal from the winning horse’s garland.)

How to make a Woodford Reserve Kentucky Derby Mint Julep

  • 2 oz. Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon
  • 1 tsp. Woodford County, Kentucky, sorghum simple syrup
  • 2 leaves of Kentucky Colonel mint
  • Garnish: 3 spray roses, a sprig of mint, and a single rose petal from the Kentucky Derby’s Garland of Roses

Rub mint around the julep cup, expressing the essential oils. Add remaining ingredients and top with crushed ice sourced from Woodford Reserve’s Pepper Spring. Churn ingredients with a bar spoon distributing the flavor. Top with additional crushed ice and garnish. (If you’re making this at home—and short a grand, to boot—you can easily substitute in locally available varieties of mint, simple syrup, ice, and roses. Though a traditional silver highball glass is best, any old cup will do.)

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