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May 28, 2022

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Review: There’s a new Kentucky Derby cocktail — and we’ve tried the perfect mixer to make it

The bottle

Williams Sonoma and Woodford Reserve Spire Cocktail Mixer, $22.95

The back story

When it comes to cocktails tied to the Kentucky Derby, the mint julep might finally have some competition.

The julep, of course, is forever associated with the famed Run for the Roses, which is taking place Saturday. But there’s another cocktail that’s being touted as alternative: the Woodford Reserve spire — or spire, for short. It was developed in 2018 by Chris Morris, the master distiller of the bourbon brand that also happens to be the race’s presenting sponsor. This year, Woodford has upped the ante by also coming out with a spire mixer as part of its partnership with gourmet brand Williams Sonoma
WSM,
-6.54%.
(Other mixers in the lineup include ones for a mint julep, whiskey sour and an old fashioned.)

The Woodford team explains that it had been approached by Williams Sonoma about developing a mixer line some time ago and decided to go for it. “We thought it would be an excellent opportunity to build brand awareness and increase exposure of Woodford Reserve to a new audience,” said Woodford assistant master distiller Elizabeth McCall. The spire was a logical one to add to the mixer mix, if you will, because of the cocktail’s growing popularity at the Derby, McCall added, noting that the drink is also an “excellent” summer refresher.

So what exactly is a spire cocktail? It’s a mix of bourbon (Woodford would obviously prefer you to use its brand), cranberry juice and lemonade — a blend of the sweet, the sour and the tart, in other words. And if you’re wondering about the cocktail’s name, it refers to the twin spires of Churchill Downs, home to the Kentucky Derby.

What we think about it

I am a fan of anything with cranberry juice, so I was naturally drawn to the drink. It’s a bit like the bourbon world’s answer to the cosmopolitan, the cocktail of “Sex and the City” fame that mixes vodka, cranberry juice, lime juice, triple sec and vodka. But I actually prefer the spire because the bourbon adds more heft to the sip. (No knock on vodka, but it doesn’t give much flavor to a drink.) The mixer does what mixers are supposed to do — make things easy for you. But this is not a particularly complicated cocktail to try mixing at home.

Oh, and if you’re looking to make a mint julep, you could also go for the Woodford-Williams Sonoma mixer as well. But I found it didn’t have the same natural minty taste as a version made from scratch.

How to enjoy it

The spire mixer tells you all you need to know on the bottle — just combine equal parts bourbon and mixer and you’re good to go. But if you’re looking for a non-alcoholic or “mocktail” version, I’d suggest trying it with iced tea or even seltzer.