Kentucky Derby inspired cocktails to drink right this minute
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Kentucky Derby cocktails

Kentucky Derby inspired cocktails to drink right this minute

Words— Kate Dingwall

Regardless of what side of the Mason-Dixon line you grew up on (or what side of the 49th Parallel for that matter), the Kentucky Derby is an event worth celebrating. The historic horse race and accompanying festival has become just a big a boozing event as the Fourth of July. Who’s surprised, as it has all the ingredients for a stellar event: fun hats, strong drinks, and a little bit of sportsmanship.

You may not be able to make the track to Churchill Downs, understandable, considering the tickets will easily run you upwards of $1000. The Kentucky Derby is still the perfect occasion to gather your friends and make an event out of it. Besides, after this eternally long winter do you even need an occasion to prepare a bright and fresh Julep?
Dubbed the “greatest two minutes in sports”, the Kentucky Derby is the culmination of the two week Kentucky Derby festival in Louisville. Since 1875, the historic event has brought thoroughbred racing to the world stage. Regardless of your level of interest in sports overall, it’s a thrilling event. Firstly, it’s only two minutes so if you have a waning attention span or if you have guests who aren’t invested in the sporting world, it’s the perfect length for a fête. Secondly, you can place bets on horses with funny names, whether you’re ready to throw your dough or if you prefer a conservative dollar. No matter if your crew isn’t the gambling type, everyone can throw a dollar in to make the betting a little more competitive.

Of course, the Derby is known for its association with over-the-top garb. As is most things in the south, the bigger the hat the better. Pinstripe suits, or suits of any garish pattern really, are welcomed. Bow ties? Okay, but just this once! So raise a glass, y’all. We’ve gathered our favorite recipes for Derby day, ranging from riffs on the iconic Mint Julep to more modern sippers.

The Classic




Mint Juleps are the drink of the Kentucky Derby. Case and point: over 120,000 Mint Juleps are sipped over the course of the races. So it’s only fair that you pay your dues and serve one up. Let’s start with the classic Mint Julep.


As tradition leads us, Mint Juleps are served in pewter mugs. These pewter mugs are meant to keep your drink icy cold – meaning the precious bourbon inside won’t get diluted. With this in mind, it’s important to hold your mug from the top or the bottom, so the heat from your hand doesn’t warm up the glass and water down your drink.

To make a classic Julep, take a handful of mint (roughly 4-5 sprigs) and a teaspoon of sugar. Brown or raw please, don’t give me that splenda nonsense. If you have a pewter glass, all the better but if not a rocks class or a highball will do just fine. Muddle the mint with a sugar – a muddler is preferably but feel free to use the back of a spoon. For the ice, if you don’t have access to cracked ice, take your regular ice from the fridge and put it in a thick bag. Smash to your heart’s content with a rolling pin. Fill the glass with ice, add 2 ounces of bourbon and stir liberally, until the outside of the glass is frosty to the touch. Garnish with more mint.

Easy? Absolutely. Delicious? Absolutely.


Once you’ve mastered that, this below recipe subs out mint for thyme for a more herbal flavor.


Bourbon Thyme Julep 

Recipe by Frank Liotti of Freemans Restaurant, NY 


  • 2 parts Basil Hayden’s® Bourbon
  • 1 bar spoon Simple Syrup
  • 1 dash Angostura® Bitters
  • 6 Fresh Thyme Sprigs (one for garnish)



Method: Muddle fresh thyme in a rocks glass. Combine remaining ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir until cold. Fine strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with a toasted thyme sprig.



The Day Drinker




As the Kentucky Derby doesn’t take place at night, you shouldn’t be drinking like it’s nighttime. If you’re going to veer to imbibing to watch the race, pick a drink that’s perfect for a slower pace. At simply three ingredients, Spritz Is one of our favorite leisurely sipper.



  • Aperol Spritz
  • 3 oz Mionetto Prosecco
  • 2 oz Aperol
  • 2 oz Soda Water



Method: Fill a glass with ice. Add Prosecco, Aperol and soda water in that order. Rim glass with a orange peel and squeeze over glass for essence. Garnish with Orange peel.



The Updated Modern




A Mint Julep is all well and good, but let’s expand your cocktail knowledge with two equally as delicious classic cocktails: a Gold Rush and a Rye Smash. The below recipes both embrace ever-Southern ingredients, like honey and rye, but put their own twist on these well-loved drinks.


Rye Smash

Recipe by Jason Allmond – Savannah, GA



  • 2 oz. Rittenhouse Rye
  • .5 oz Lemon Juice
  • 1 oz Blackberry Cordial
  • 3 Dashes Lemon Bitters
  • 6 Mint Leaves



Method: Muddle mint in rocks glass until fragrant, add all other ingredients to rocks glass. Add cubes into glass and then stir. Add more ice until full. Garnish with a lemon twist and clapped mint sprig

Spiced Honey Ginger Recipe

Recipe by TJ Vong – Denver,CO



  • 1 ½ parts Basil Hayden’s Bourbon
  • 1/2 part
  • ​Ginger Liqueur
  • 3/4 part Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 part Honey Simple Syrup*
  • 3-4 dashes Bittercube Jamaican® #2 Bitters
  • 1 Lemon Wheel (for garnish)
  • 1 Rosemary Sprig (for garnish)


Method:​ Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and double strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a lemon wheel and sprig of rosemary.

*To create Honey Simple Syrup, combine equal parts honey and equal parts water over heat until dissolved.

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