Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Entertaining
14 Best Cocktails to Serve at Your Kentucky Derby Party

By

Most Americans care about horse racing approximately never, with the one major exception being the Kentucky Derby. Every May, the pomp and circumstance of this great American tradition inspires parties nationwide. People throw down bets, cheer on horses named McCraken, Practical Joke and Cloud Computing (all real names), and slurp down refreshing afternoon libations. Here, the best cocktails to make on Derby Day.

Matthew Kelly/Supercall

The Kentucky Derby = Mint Juleps. Yes, there are more out-of-the-box cocktail options (we’ll get to those), but you can't even think about the Derby without a Mint Julep magically appearing in your hand—served in the traditional silver chalice, of course. Made with crushed ice, mint, simple syrup and good ol' Kentucky bourbon, the traditional Julep is darn near perfect on a hot Derby day, and any self-respecting Southerner wouldn't have it any other way.

The Essentials

Bourbon
Simple Syrup
mint
Matthew Kelly/Supercall

An ode to the Julep's medicinal past, the Prescription Julep *gasp* doesn't use bourbon. Instead, it calls for Cognac, along with a splash of rye whiskey, a rich simple syrup and mint. It might not be real medicine but it will certainly make you feel good.

The Essentials

cognac
fresh mint leaves, plus more to garnish
Patrick Spears/Supercall
One of the main reasons to watch the Derby is to gawk at all the exquisitely over-the-top Derby hats, and maybe don one of your own. This sour cocktail was invented at a ritzy 1930s club in L.A. and named after the neighboring restaurant, which was shaped like a derby hat. A mix of bourbon, grapefruit juice and sweet honey syrup, the Brown Derby is the ideal drink to sip whilst fanning yourself beneath a colorful, wide-brimmed hat.

The Essentials

Bourbon
Grapefruit Juice
Honey Syrup
Matthew Kelly/Supercall
The Derby is really all about the horses, especially if you have money on the outcome. Bet on the appropriately-named Horse’s Neck, which gets its moniker from its garnish: an extra-long, spiraled lemon twist wrapped around the inside of the glass. The drink itself keeps things simple, with just bourbon, bitters and ginger ale to top.

The Essentials

bourbon
bitters
ginger ale
Patrick Spears/Supercall

Sure, the horses do most of the leg work, but how would they become prize winning steeds without their jockeys? Honor the riders by sipping a Jockey Club—a sweet, Southern-inspired take on the Manhattan that swaps out spicy rye for smooth bourbon and adds a touch of maraschino liqueur for a fruitier flavor.

The Essentials

bourbon
sweet vermouth
maraschino liqueur
Patrick Spears/Supercall

The Mint Julep isn’t the only classic cocktail to come out of Kentucky. This spritzy, fluted cocktail was first served in Louisville at the Old Seelbach Bar in the ‘90s and was said to be a long-lost recipe from pre-Prohibition days. Disappointingly, bar manager Adam Seger eventually revealed that he made up the lore to drum up business, but the delightful blend of bourbon, Cointreau, sparkling wine and a few hefty dashes of both Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters is too delicious for us to care.

The Essentials

bourbon
Cointreau
Sparkling wine
Matthew Kelly/Supercall

Those looking to inject some modernity into their Julep need to try the Asian-inspired Shiso Bourbon. Made by bartender Michael Noah of New York’s Marc Forgione, this cooling, crushed ice cocktail mixes bourbon and zesty lime juice with a homemade shiso syrup, which gives the drink a grassy, lightly minty flavor.

The Essentials

Bourbon
shiso simple syrup
Lime Juice
Matthew Kelly/Supercall

Even if the brown stuff isn’t for you, you can still celebrate Derby Day. Skip the bourbon and embrace seasonal spring ingredients and elegant garden parties with this sugar snap pea Margarita. Even though it’s made with tequila (and inspired by England), this drink still delivers classic Southern flavors of muddled mint, apricot and tea. Plus, if there’s anyone who loves a day at the races more than Kentuckians, it’s the Brits.

The Essentials

Tequila
Earl Grey Tea Syrup
sugar snap peas
Matthew Kelly/Supercall

Another whiskey-less, but thematically on point cocktail option is the Pimm's Cup, a low-ABV spring sipper made with Pimm's No. 1 (an herbal and fruity gin-based liqueur), mint, lemon-lime soda and a bounty of fresh fruit. Our favorite combination is strawberries, lemons and cucumber, but it's also fun experimenting with blackberries, oranges and ginger beer in place of the soda.

The Essentials

Pimm’s No. 1
British Lemonade
fresh lemon juice
Matthew Kelly/Supercall
If there will be youngins or teetotalers at your Derby bash, this (easily spikable) mocktail lets everyone in on the fun. Muddled mint and crushed ice combine with an easy, homemade spiced peach syrup that’s reminiscent of an old fashioned peach pie. Topped off with spicy ginger beer, this flavor-packed drink doesn’t need any booze—but a good slug of bourbon certainly doesn’t hurt it.

The Essentials

mint
ginger beer
peach syrup
Matthew Kelly / Supecall
A summer heat wave might crash your Derby party with blistering temperatures, especially if you’re in Kentucky. And while Mint Julep is pretty handy for cooling off, it’s nowhere near as effective as this icy blended variation. A touch of peppermint liqueur and mint syrup combine with bourbon in the blender to make a ridiculously chilly slushie.

The Essentials

bourbon
mint syrup
ice
Marisa Chafetz / Supercall
Derby Day parties can carry on well into the night, so cap the long day off with an appropriate dessert cocktail. This full proof bourbon dessert incorporates mint chocolate chip ice cream, which adds nice flecked chocolatey flavor to the cool tingle of mint and sweet heat of whiskey. It’s even served in a frosty julep cup with heaping topping of whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

The Essentials

Bourbon
mint chocolate ice cream
Matthew Kelly / Supercall
If you’re attracted to a Mint Julep for the minty refreshment but don’t get down with whiskey, try muddling up a Mojito instead. The Highball filled with bright white rum and peppy lime will keep your energy levels up for a long day of races, while slowly sipping the long drink will keep you on pace with your Julep drinking pals.

The Essentials

White Rum
lime juice
mint
Matthew kelly / SUpercall

Big bet winners on Derby Day deserve a Julep variation that’s truly celebratory. Bartenders figured out long ago that combining a Champagne Cocktail with the Mint Julep creates an extravagant, bubbly version of the classic minty bourbon drink. It’s dry, effervescent and sweet like the Champagne Cocktail but still has that down home Southern character—the perfect hybrid for a Kentucky high roller.

The Essentials

mint
Bourbon
Champagne, to top

Published on

More From Around The Web