Cocktail Club

Cocktail Club: Plan your Kentucky Derby Day with a cocktail inspired by Churchill Downs

Hold a Spire cocktail in hand this weekend as the announcer says, "And they're off!"

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In the highly competitive world of distilled spirits, one of the key elements of every marketing plan is the signature serve. This is the one cocktail recipe, among all the others, that a brand promotes to get the most attention. It’s designed to target the brand’s key audience with a drink that shows their spirit well, plugs into current imbibing trends, and is hopefully not hard to mix for the average bartender or enthusiast at home.

Creative craft bartenders often go their own way, forgoing the branded suggestions and either plug a new product into classic formulas or whip up their own new concoctions that work well with the spirit. But if that includes only 1 in 50 bartenders, and a brand is trying to capture its slice of the $250 billion annual liquor sales in the U.S. alone, they will blast this signature serve cocktail far and wide.

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Every writer covering the restaurant and bar industry will get a signature serve in their inbox. Liquor store shelf talkers will boldly proclaim the refreshing benefits of its select bottle beneath. Usually, even with all the effort behind them, these drink ideas fade away into the background like an overmatched sprinter on the long turn home through the backstretch.

Join the Cocktail Club to mix cocktails with bourbon whiskey on April 29 at 7 p.m.

This is not so with The Spire Cocktail, which was created by the team at Woodford Reserve. At the Kentucky Derby, which is not only the “fastest two minutes in sports” but also possibly the longest weekend of day drinking in America, the upstart Spire cocktail has already given the lauded Mint Julep a run for her money. The Spire takes its name from the iconic architectural feature of Churchill Downs, home of the Derby, the twin spires that rise above the grandstand. While nothing could disturb the preeminence of the Julep in the cocktail hall of fame, and the track serves in excess of 120,000 Mint Juleps each Derby Day, there really is a limit to how much mint and sugar one can consume while handicapping all day through the racing card.

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The Spire, which sold an astonishing 80,000 cups in 2019, pulls together accessible ingredients that pair well with their spirit in a durable recipe that’s easy to make and is well suited to the long haul of drinking at the Derby. The cranberry blends perfectly with the warm orange note of the whiskey, and the lemon anchors the drink as a play on a whiskey sour — firm, refreshing and flavorful. One can push and pull on the amount of whiskey as well to either ease up or bear down on the heady buzz.

It remains to be seen if the upstart Spire can continue to gain on the old guard Julep, but for my part, I’ll have a little money on the long shot and The Spire in my hand when the announcer says: “And they’re off!”

What you’ll need

The Kentucky Spire

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2 oz. bourbon
½ oz. lemon juice
½ oz. simple syrup
2 oz. cranberry juice

Shake over ice and strain into a highball over fresh ice
Garnish with long lemon twist


Join our next virtual cocktail class

Join us Thursday, April 29 at 7 p.m. with host Jackson Cannon and his special guest, Alex Larochelle, bar manager at Six West in South Boston. This week they’ll be making cocktails with bourbon whiskey in anticipation of the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby, catching up about the Boston restaurant and bar scene, and sharing tips the pros use to make great drinks at home. On deck are the ultra-classic Mint Julep and an evocative newcomer, The Kentucky Spire. Everything you’ll need is listed here with a link to purchase your Kentucky Derby Cocktail Club Kit through Gordon’s Fine Wine and Spirits.

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