Woodford Reserve will serve its $1,000 mint julep for this year’s Kentucky Derby. One very unique ingredient will make it a must for any bourbon fan.
Woodford Reserve, the Kentucky Derby and a mint julep is the perfect trifecta. While a mint julep is the tradition cocktail for the run for the roses, there are variations on that libation. Although everyone has a preference, the perfect combination of all three ingredients will create the ultimate cocktail.
For this year’s Kentucky Derby, Woodford Reserve created a very special mint julep. While the price tag might get people’s attention, the detail and care with the ingredients is truly special. Just like a superb recipe, elevated ingredients will make a difference in taste.
In the case of this cocktail, the cocktail uses an extremely unique Kentucky Sweetener. While some people use simple syrup in this cocktail, this elevated cocktail uses a very special honey.
For the first time ever, Master Distiller Chris Morris & Assistant Master Distiller Elizabeth McCall were allowed to have a barrel of honey aged inside the famed Twin Spires of Churchill Downs. The honey was aged 145 days, which commemorates the 145 Kentucky Derby.
The uniqueness of this ingredient makes this year’s Woodford Reserve mint julep a must have for bourbon fans, racing fans and foodies. It is a once in a lifetime experience that should not be passed over.
Master Distiller Chris Morris & Assistant Master Distiller Elizabeth McCall inside the Twin Spires of Churchill Downs, photo provided by Woodford Reserve
As excitement builds for the annual run for the roses and this special cocktail, I spoke with Woodford Reserve Master Distiller Chris Morris about the special, aged honey, how best to enjoy a mint julep and finding the perfect balance of flavor in this cocktail.
While I try to be a decent home mixologist, I am always curious about why certain ingredients are chosen. For this $1K cocktail, the use of honey was quite intriguing and could influence the depth of flavor in the cocktail.
Morris said, “Historically the early Kentucky settlers did not have cane sugar available for use as a sweetener – they used either honey or sorghum. So we are returning our julep to its historical roots. Also Woodford Reserve has a natural honey note in it, from our high malt content and uniquely toasted barrel, so the use of Woodford County sourced honey in the $1000 Mint Julep allows the flavor of Woodford Reserve shine through.”
Adding aging honey was quite curious. Since honey never spoils, it seemed unusual to age honey. I asked Morris about this scenario.
He said, “’Aging’ our honey simple syrup in an oak barrel allows it to become more complex as it draws oak vanilla, caramel and spice notes from the charred wood. We filled the small Bourbon barrel (bourbon must age in new, charred oak barrels) with the honey simple syrup and placed it in the famed Twin Spires at Churchill Downs on a cold December day. It has been exposed to extreme cold and now a very warm spring so the honey simple syrup has moved in and out of the wood drawing its complex flavors from it.
Serving a cocktail can be a matter of preference or necessity. While this cocktail is often served with a straw, this special $1K mint julep has a very special straw. I was curious how this particular straw affects the enjoyment.
Morris said, “Most people don’t know that the sipping straw was invented for the mint julep. Our ancestors used broom straw as a straw – thus the name – in their juleps. The straw would become wet and would close up. That is a big problem if you are trying to enjoy a julep! So silver straws were created to stand up to long lived julep drinking experience. Since a julep is made from the bottom up it needs to be enjoyed that way. If you sip it from the top you will miss out on the combination of mint, sweetener and Woodford Reserve flavors.”
Lastly, one of the key flavors in this cocktail is mint. The herb can have a powerful aroma, but it is delicate leaf. Finding the best way to exude the mint flavor and create a balanced cocktail is key.
Woodford Reserve $1,000 Mint Julep, photo provided by Woodford Reserve
In this version, Woodford Reserve recommends rubbing the leaf around the glass. There is no tearing of the mint. Morris said, “If you are too aggressive in your treatment of the mint it can tend to overwhelm the julep. We want Woodford Reserve to be the star of the show so we handle the mint with care.”
Since not everyone can attend this year’s Kentucky Derby, Woodford Reserve graciously shared a recipe for a “version” of this special cocktail.
"An “Inspired” Cocktail: Woodford Reserve’s®2019 $1,000 Mint Julep Kentucky Derby® Recipe:• Ingredients:• 2 oz. Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon• 2 bar spoons of Inspired Honey Sweetener• 2 Mint Leaves• Garnish: Shaved honeycomb and a sprig of mintInstructions: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. Garnish with shaved honeycomb and a sprig of mint."
I would like to thank Woodford Reserve and Master Distiller Chris Morris for sharing this insight on making a perfect mint julep as well as this year’s special cocktail.
Will you be sipping on a mint julep while watching the 145th Kentucky Derby on May 4?