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The Kentucky Derby: fancy hats and mint juleps

Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

The COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into the last year’s Triple Crown schedule, but with vaccinations up and infection numbers down, the first leg of this year’s Triple Crown is a “go” for May 1st.

And that is, of course, the Kentucky Derby!

To celebrate the 147th Run for the Roses, we asked what comes to mind when people hear “the Kentucky Derby.”

For some, it was “big fancy hats,” but for most it was “mint juleps.” 

We’re not sure if our chosen, uh, population, is skewed, but we like their choice!

The 2021 event will only be socially-distanced full—a “mere” 20,000 to 30,000 people will be allowed in the reserved seats and they’re not sure yet about the general admission tickets yet—but that is no reason not to don your fancy hat (as long as it doesn’t fill the entirety of your Zoom screen) and have a mint julep with friends.

Woodford Reserve

The mint julep has been associated with Churchill Downs racetrack and the Kentucky Derby since 1938. 

In a normal year, almost 120,000 Mint Juleps are served over the two-day Kentucky Oaks/Kentucky Derby weekend at Churchill Downs.

To do that, more than 10,000 bottles of whiskeys, 1,000 pounds of freshly harvested mint, and 60,000 pounds of ice are ordered. 

Since 2006, special charitable mint juleps (like Woodford Reserve bourbon with mint from Ireland and spring water ice cubes from the Bavarian Alps and sugar from Australia) are served in silver and gold-plated cups with silver straws, at a cost of $1,000–$2,500 each (you read that right), are offered during the Derby to raise money to support causes dedicated to retired race horses. We have no qualms with any of that. 

Woodford Reserves’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey has more than 200 detectable flavor notes, from bold grain and wood, to sweet aromatics, spice, and fruit & floral notes.

While “everyone” knows the classic mint julep recipe, each year a new and unique julep is created just for the Derby’s charity cups. This year’s creation, the Cherries and Cream Julep, was inspired by Derby Day menus from the late 1800’s and honors the Black jockeys who dominated horse racing in those early years. Read more about it here.

Luckily for the rest of us, Woodford Reserve has generously posted this year’s recipe, and we happily share it with you.

2021 Woodford Reserve Mint Julep Recipe: Cherries and Cream Mint Julep

  • 2 oz. Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon
  • 0.5 oz. cherry juice
  • Half a vanilla bean pod (cut into small segments)
  • 1 tsp. powdered sugar
  • Mint sprig, cherry, and vanilla bean pod for garnish.
  • Crushed ice

  1. In a julep cup, add 1/2 oz cherry juice.
  2. Add half a vanilla bean pod cut into small segments.
  3. Add 1 tsp. of powdered sugar. Muddle.
  4. Add crushed ice to 2/3 of the cup.
  5. Add 2 oz of WR.
  6. Top off the cup with crushed ice.
  7. Garnish with a mint sprig, a real cherry, and the other half of the vanilla bean pod.

Renegade Foods

As for nibbles to go with the charity mint juleps, we went with some premium smoked “meats” made entirely from plants. These fine plant-based salamis are from Renegade Foods.

Inspired by the founders’ experience working alongside classical chefs in Europe, Renegade’s line of applewood smoked vegan meats are created using traditional salami-making techniques. The flavor profile is that of strong undertones of smoke and black pepper. 

We paired the salami with one of our favorite plant-based “cheddar cheese” from Violife. The combo was perfect for the mint julep.

Celebrate the day

Whether or not you choose to watch the race, raise a glass to the passing of one of the most stressful and distressing years in the annals of modern history (which started in AD 1500). Remember those lost, those recovered, and those whose lives will be forever changed by this last year.

Raise a glass to the fortitude and courage shown by so many, from medical personnel who kept the sicker-than-sick alive, to the food delivery folks who provided sustenance to so many who were not able to do so themselves, to the postal workers who kept delivering the insulin and the recovery checks and the circulars and the cards from grandma. Think kindly on the many, many, many individuals who carefully handled the bodies of the dead, almost without end, all of this last year.

Raise a glass that the earth still exists as we know it, that it still turns on its axis, and that Spring has once again shown us its lovely and warming face.

Find thankfulness where you can. Kentucky Derby Day might not be the most meaningful of days to you, but it is a day of celebration. Let us allow ourselves a moment of celebration, no matter how small.

Ad meliora (towards better things).

Other Woodford Reserve Recipes

Miami Mint Julep: Created by Natalia Cardenas
  • 2 oz Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon
  • .5 oz Chinola Passionfruit Liqueur
  • 1 tsp rich (2:1) Simple Syrup
  • Bunch of Mint

Directions: Add 2 oz WR Bourbon, ½ oz Chinola with a bar spoon of rich (2:1) simple syrup and a healthy bunch of mint leaves (8-10). Fill the julep cup halfway with crushed ice. Swizzle or stir to incorporate the ingredients until the julep cup starts to frost. Add more crushed ice and then garnish with a few edible flowers and a fresh sprig of mint.

Dallas Mint Julep: Created by Random Ward
  • 2 oz Woodford Reserve Bourbon Kentucky Straight Bourbon
  • ½ oz 2:1 Rosemary Infused Honey Syrup 
  • 5 mint leaves 
  • Pebble Ice 
  • BBQ Rub

Directions: Add mint, honey, and bourbon to julep mug and gently press. Add half volume pebble ice and swizzle. Finish topping with pebble ice and garnish w/ mint plouche and rosemary. Dust with BBQ rub. 

NYC Mint Julep: Created by Michael Toscano
  • Woodford Reserve Blackberry Julep
  • 2oz Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Bourbon
  • 1/2oz Simple Syrup
  • 6-8 Blackberries – Grown all over New York along with Strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries
  • Mint 

Directions: Muddle 6 blackberries with simple syrup and a healthy bunch of mint leaves (8-10). Add 2 oz of Woodford Reserve Bourbon and fill the julep cup with ice. Stir and lift ice until the julep cup is frosted and then garnish with 2 blackberries and a fresh sprig of mint.

California Julep: Created by  Jeff Seymour
  • 2oz Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Bourbon
  • .75oz Chareau Aloe Liqueur*
  • .25oz Honey
  • 6-8 Mint leaves muddled
  • 3 slices of cucumber muddled
  • Crush ice
  • Garnish with Fresh mint bouquet and cucumber slices

Directions: Add mint leaves and cucumber slices to julep cup and muddle.  Add honey, Chareau Aloe Liqueur and Woodford Reserve with 3/4s full fresh ice and stir until Julep cup begins to frost.

Top with fresh crushed ice until mound on top and garnish with fresh bouquet of mint and three slices of cucumber.

*Chareau Aloe Liqueur is a California based liqueur made from fresh mint, cucumber, lemon peel, melon and aloe vera.

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