This Killer Kentucky Derby Cocktail Could Unseat the Mint Julep—Here’s How to Make It

The Mint Julep’s days of Derby superiority may be in trouble, thanks to the “Spire” cocktail.

spire woodford reserve kentucky derby cocktail promo
Woodford Reserve

Bourbon fans be aware: we may see a cocktail upset at the Kentucky Derby in the next few years. In just two years, a single cocktail has closed the gap on more than a century of the Mint Julep’s iconic reign over the Derby. The “Spire” is coming up fast on the legendary drink of Churchill Downs.

As signature cocktails go, the Spire is a weird and wonderful Frankenstein of a summer cocktail, half Cape Codder half Bourbon Lemonade, all deceptively refreshing.

It so happened that I attended the Derby in the Spire’s debut year (2018) and, after partaking in the requisite ritualistic Mint Julep consumption early in the day, I ended up leaning in on Spires through the rest of a very muddy race day.

I wasn’t alone, and I can’t recommend it enough. For context, Churchill Downs typically sells around 120,000 Juleps each year during the Kentucky Derby. In the last two years, the Spire has hit annual sales of 80,000 (I’m not sure how many of those I was responsible for, but it’s definitely less than half).

Woodford Reserve

Point being: the Spire is fast on the Julep’s heels.

It’s gaining for a couple of reasons, but the most obvious draw is that mint and sugar can wear on the stomach after just a couple of hours. Unless you’re breaking things up with water breaks, you can’t sustain a day of infield day drinking on Juleps alone—it’s too much mint and sugar.

Cranberry and lemonade, on the other hand? That’s a sunrise to sunset combination. And as perfect as the ratios may be on paper, this drink is very forgiving if you want to dial up the cranberry—or the bourbon.

Don’t worry—the good news is that this cocktail is equally at home in a nice julep cup, so you’ll still get to use those occasion-only pewter or copper vessels just like always.

Mixing one (or ten) of these up at home is simple, and you’ve probably got most of the ingredients on hand. Raise one for the 2020 Derby if you wish, but try this one out after the roses have been handed over—it’ll take you all the way to the end of summer.

Woodford Reserve

The Woodford Spire

1.5 parts Woodford Reserve bourbon (or a similar substitute)

2 parts Lemonade

1 part cranberry juice

Crushed Ice

Lemon peel for a lemon twist to garnish

Directions: In a glass mix Woodford Reserve, lemonade and Cranberry juice with a bar spoon. Add liquid mixture into a copper cup, add crushed ice to the top of the glass & serve with a lemon twist.


Clay Whittaker is a Contributing Editor at His work has appeared in Cigar Aficionado, Playboy, Esquire, Forbes, Town and Country, and elsewhere. You can subscribe to his newsletter here, and follow him on Instagram here.