Kentucky Derby Day Drinks

April 29, 2017

The first thing to know about hosting an authentic Derby party is that while the Kentucky Derby might be a two-minute horse race, the party that is the Derby lasts up to a week! So you’ll need more than frosty mint juleps to keep your thirsty guests properly quenched. Fortunately, there are many thoroughbred-themed cocktails, some served track-side and some bar exclusives, that are perfect for any Derby party.


Over the years, mint juleps have become synonymous with the Kentucky Derby. Churchill Downs, the hosting race track, serves more than 100,000 of them each year over Derby weekend. But the race itself dates back to the late 1800’s and mint juleps as the promoted drink of the event weren’t introduced until 1938.

Today most of the mint juleps are served in collectible glassware although if you’re a big spender, you can get a Woodford Reserve mint julep served in a hand-crafted metal julep cup for a cool $1,000.

Mint Julep


While there are subtle variations in construction, the most basic mint julep is easy to make:

– Press 6 – 8 mint leaves against inside of glass (or muddle, if you’re gentle) then discard.
– Fill glass with ice, preferably crushed.
– Add 2 oz bourbon and ½ to 1 oz of simple syrup.
– Stir gently. Top with more ice, a mint sprig and add a straw.

Don’t skip the straw! The wax-paper straw was patented in 1888 by Marvin Chester Stone specifically for sipping mint juleps.


The day before the Kentucky Derby is known as Oaks Day. While the Kentucky Derby is an open race with the potential for both colts and fillies to run, the ladies get their own exclusive Grade I stakes race on Friday – the Kentucky Oaks. The winner is presented with a garland of lilies. Of course, there’s a suggested cocktail.

Oaks Lily Cocktail


– 1 ¼ oz vodka (Grey Goose is the official sponsor)
– 1 oz sweet and sour mix
– ¼ oz triple sec
– 3 oz cranberry juice

Combine ingredients in a shaker, then transfer to the serving glass (preferably a stemless wine glass), fill with crushed ice, garnish with a blackberry and lemon flag, insert a straw and serve.


Almost every racetrack has a Turf Club which is basically a fancy, exclusive (and expensive) bar where one can partake in rich foods, sophisticated drinks and, of course, wagering. While today’s Turf Clubs are above-board, back in the late 1800’s a short-lived den of ill repute in Madison Square in New York City adopted the moniker, the food and drink, and the gambling. It was shut down pretty quickly but not before establishing a cocktail in its own name.

The Kentucky Derby


– Fill a shaker three-quarters full with crushed ice
– Add 2 – 3 dashes Peruvian bitters (or Angostura, if that’s what you have)
– 1 ½ oz Tom gin
– 1 ½ oz Italian (sweet) vermouth
– Stir well, strain into stemmed glass and serve

The Jockey Club formed in New York in 1894 but it’s impact on public psyche resulted in two radically different cocktails sharing the name.


– Fill a shaker three-quarters full with crushed ice
– Add 2 – 3 dashes Peruvian bitters (or Angostura, if that’s what you have)
– ¼ oz simple syrup
– 1 ½ oz whiskey (preferably rye or high-rye bourbon)
– 1 ½ oz vermouth
– Stir well, strain into stemmed glass and serve


– 1 dash orange bitters
– 1 dash Angostura bitters
– 2 dashes Crème de Noyaux (almond creme liqueur)
– 4 dashes lemon juice
– 2 ¼ oz dry gin
– Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass

Fireworks during the Kentucky Derby Festival


While most folks outside of the Bluegrass State might host a Kentucky Derby party over the course of a long afternoon, folks inside the state treat the occasion as an excuse for a long weekend. In fact, many Louisville-area schools give kids the day off on Friday for an “administrative holiday.” (But only because they can’t say, ‘So we can go drink cocktails and gamble.’)

Whether your Derby party is as quick as the race or as long as a Southern summer night, we hope these cocktails give you a variety of options to quench what is surely to be many parched throats.

Attribution: Turf Club and Jockey Club Manhattan style from Imbibe! by Dave Wondrich, Jockey Club Sour style from The Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock.

Now it’s time to start making your own Kentucky Derby Day drinks!

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