Kentucky Derby Drinks

May 1, 2018

On May 5th, some 170,000 thirsty fans will be descending upon Churchill Downs for the 2018 Kentucky Derby, presented by Woodford Reserve. That’s right, Woodford is now the presenting sponsor for the event, linking two iconic Kentucky brands and ensuring that Derby-goers will have whiskey on their minds—and in their cups—throughout race day and the preceding series of events.

Just as renowned trainers often run multiple horses in the same event, you can be sure that the Brown-Forman stable will be filling the field with other entrants too. That includes stablemate Old Forester, with the ready-to-drink (RTD) Old Forester Mint Julep serving as the Official Drink of the Kentucky Derby for the fourth consecutive year.

The only thing more prominent than the outlandish hats will be the Mint Juleps. An estimated 120,000 Mint Juleps will be served at Churchill Downs over two days, including Friday’s Kentucky Oaks and Saturday’s Derby. It’s an all hands-on deck environment, including Old Forester’s master taster Jacquelyn Zykan, Churchill Downs bourbon ambassador Monica Wolf, Woodford Reserve master distiller Chris Morris and assistant master distiller Elizabeth McCall.

Here are a few highlights that Derby attendees can expect.


Back again for the 144th Kentucky Derby is the $1,000 Mint Julep Cup program, now in its 13th year. Over $450,000 has been raised throughout the program’s history, and the Jennifer Lawrence Arts Fund is set to receive the proceeds this year. The Louisville-native actress’ charity uses the arts to positively impact the lives of children.

$1,000 Mint Julep Cup & $2,500 Commonwealth Cup / Photo Credit: Woodford Reserve

In this case, it’s not really about what’s in the glass—it’s about the glass itself. The $1,000 Bluegrass Cup consists of high-polished sterling silver rose applications plated in 18-karat yellow gold, while the $2,500 Commonwealth Cup is a sterling silver cup with a 24-karat heavy reliquary quality gold plating, contrasted with sterling silver details.

The cups are presented in silk-lined wooden boxes. Buyers gain access to a special race day tent to receive their julep. If you’re feeling charitable, you can make your purchase in advance. Be forewarned that the program tends to sell out in advance. Any unsold cups will be available for purchase on Derby Day.

The signature recipe for the year, from Morris and McCall, is as follows:

The Woodford Reserve 2018 Kentucky Derby Mint Julep

– 2 oz Woodford Reserve Bourbon
– 1 tsp Woodford County sorghum simple syrup
– 2 leaves of Kentucky Colonel mint

Garnish: 3 spray red roses, a sprig of mint and a single rose petal from the Garland of Roses, which is draped on the winning Derby horse.

Instructions: Rub mint around the julep cup, expressing the essential oils. Add remaining ingredients and top with crushed ice made from limestone-filtered water sourced from the Woodford Reserve Distillery. Churn ingredients with a bar spoon, distributing the flavor. Top with additional crushed ice and garnish.


Fans looking to focus on the whiskey itself will have plenty of options as well. New to the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection this spring is a Batch Proof edition, bottled at 125.8 proof. Also coming out is the yet-to-be announced Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Malt Whiskey, with a mash bill of 51% malted barley, 47% corn, and 2% rye.

Woodford Reserve 2018 Kentucky Derby Bottle / Photo Credit: Woodford Reserve

Additionally, Brown-Forman is slated to release King of Kentucky, a 14 year old single barrel bourbon ranging in cask strength from 125 to 135 proof, and made from the Early Times mash bill of 79% corn, 11% rye and 10% malted barley. Though that’s due out in June, perhaps Derby attendees will luck out and find a tasting or two stashed away.

Last but not least, you may also want to snag the Woodford Reserve Derby Bottle. The limited edition annual release showcases special, commemorative artwork, though the whiskey itself is the same as standard Woodford Reserve bourbon.

New Derby Cocktails & Julep Riffs to Try

Both Woodford Reserve and Old Forester have unleashed plenty of signature cocktails for this year’s showcase. The good news with these is that you can make them for yourself from the comfort of your home!

Old Forester Citrine Punch / Photo Credit: Old Forester

Woodford Spire

– 1.5 oz Woodford Reserve Bourbon
– 2 oz lemonade
– 1 oz cranberry

Instructions: Serve over ice in copper mug and garnish with lemon twist.

The 10-Second Mint Julep

– 2 oz. Old Forester Mint Julep

Instructions: Pour 2 oz Old Forester Mint Julep over crushed ice in a rocks glass or a julep cup. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

Citrine Punch

– 1.5 oz Old Forester Mint Julep
– .5 oz Old Forester oleo-saccharum syrup
– 4 oz club soda

Instructions: Combine in glass with ice, stir to combine. Garnish with candied lemon peel and mint.

Julep Tea

– 2 oz Old Forester Mint Julep
– 2 oz unsweetened tea
– .5 oz Old Forester Perfect Old Fashioned Syrup
– 2 droppers Old Forester Smoked Cinnamon Bitters

Instructions: Combine in shaker with ice. Shake, pour into glass. Garnish.

Ceremonial Cliche

– 1.5 oz Old Forester Mint Julep
– .5 oz strawberry syrup*
– 4 oz Korbel Brut
– 1 dropper Old Forester Hummingbird Bitters

Instructions: Combine all ingredients in flute. Garnish.

*Strawberry Syrup: 1 cup strawberries + ½ cup water + ½ cup white sugar. Bring to a boil on stove, remove from heat. Blend on low in blender, strain with fine mesh strainer. Keep refrigerated.

Hand Crafted Old Forester Mint Julep

– 2 oz Old Forester Classic 86 Proof
– .75 oz simple syrup
– 8-10 mint leaves
– 3 mint sprigs, for garnish

Instructions: Pack julep cup with crushed ice. In a mixing glass, combine bourbon, syrup, and mint leaves. Lightly bruise mint leaves with a muddler, strain contents into julep cup. Garnish with 3 generous sprigs of mint.

*Make sure to slap mint. Make sure to insert straw into ice near mint.

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