The mint juleps at the Kentucky Derby are getting a major upgrade: For the first time, the standard ready-to-serve version will be made with Old Forester rather than Early Times.
Louisville-based Brown-Forman announced Thursday that the Old Forester julep will be the "official drink of the Kentucky Derby" this year. Churchill Downs expects to serve close to 120,000 mint juleps over the Kentucky Oaks and Derby days, the first weekend in May. It's what comes in the official "Derby glass" with ice and a sprig of mint and, according to Churchill, is the most popular Derby souvenir.
The 60-proof (30 percent alcohol) ready-to-drink cocktail also will be sold in 36 markets across the U.S. in a one-liter commemorative Derby-themed bottle for a suggested retail price of $24.99. The bottles themselves often are collected because they have had different Derby art scenes each year since 1999.
Woodford Reserve, Brown-Forman's premium bourbon, also comes in a special Derby bottle but the company doesn't release a pre-mixed julep version. Instead, a lucky few can purchase special Woodford juleps made for them at the Downs by master distiller Chris Morris.
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Brown-Forman makes Early Times, too, but Old Forester, the company's original brand, is considered a better bourbon and generally sells for twice as much. Old Forester debuted in 1870, and the first Kentucky Derby was run in 1875.
"Old Forester was a natural fit for the Official Drink status. It's a bourbon brand with as rich of a history as the Kentucky Derby and has such strong ties to Louisville," said Old Forester Brand Manager Therese McGuire.
Old Forester is an up-and-coming brand again and will be the foundation of a new distillery and visitors center that Brown-Forman is building on Main Street in Louisville.