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I love mint juleps, both for their unique taste and the short amount of time that they’re actually relevant each year. Demand for the minted drink skyrockets during the first two weeks of May, mostly because it’s synonymous with the Kentucky Derby, and wanes afterwards as people revert to their comfort zones of vodka sodas and whiskey mixes. I was at the Derby last year. It’s a magical time. I wasn’t rich enough to shell out for club tickets where people like Gronk sit, so my buddies and I headed to the “Infield,” a muddy mess of enclosed race track space that hosts the true party. It had rained the night before, so the sloppy scenes we found in this common man concourse will forever be etched in my mind as folks in nice suits raced down mud-soaked hills carefree and girls in high heels slipped on their way to the centrally-located port-a-potties. The Infield is many great things, but it is not a place of civility, which makes the beautifully designed mint juleps the Derby serves feel out of place.
Now, I soft-sounded this with the folks I went with last year, and got several heated responses objecting to this take. And I get the rationale. The artfully crafted mint julep they serve at Churchill Downs comes in a commemorative Kentucky Derby glass and looks great on Instagram – but there’s a few practical reasons why lugging one around in the Infield just doesn’t make sense.
Much like Wrigley Field’s bleacher seats or a PCB beach front, the primary reason people go to the Infield is for the party and people watching; enjoying the nearby entertainment comes second until the big race. Drinking out of shatter-proof Ron Diaz handles and plastic stadium cups are the standard at the first two party examples as glass isn’t allowed for a myriad of reasons. The same philosophy should apply to the mint juleps in the Infield. If they sold them in big plastic mugs, I’m all in. But serving them in these extravagantly branded glass cups is not a smart move as you know drunk people are going break them in a hundred different ways. Even worse, the glasses look really cool with the Kentucky Derby logo on the front, so you’ll inevitably convince your semi-sober self that you can responsibly carry this thing around for 5 plus hours. This is of course never happens as you quickly drop off your glass in exchange for a $10 pan pizza, leading to disappointment at the end of the day when you leave the track with bare hands and a barren wallet.
The other reason is that the mint julep they serve at the Derby is a horribly inefficient way to maintain a buzz throughout the day. Every year, Churchill Downs runs through roughly 60,000 pounds of ice making these things and that is very apparent when you get your first serving. It roughly takes four gulps to consume. Consuming the first one when you get into the actual Churchill Downs space is bliss as you navigate through the sea of Vineyard Vines seersucker blazers and poofy hats. But waiting in line for one in the Infield is hell when you know a standard Miller Lite could do the job and take less time to get to your mouth. Oh, and they usually run $14 – cash only. Personally, I’d rather spend my cash betting on the long-shot horses and drinking draft beer all day. Especially knowing you have a long time of idle activity before the big races begin.
Don’t get me wrong, mint juleps are still a vital part of the Derby experience, but their presence in the Infield portion of the grounds just seems forced. You’re better suited having one or two before you head into the pastel-filled thunderdome and spending your resources elsewhere once you get inside. Regardless, you should make the trip to the Kentucky Derby at least once. It’s a blast..
Image via Shutterstock