6 Cocktails to Make for the Kentucky Derby

Derby Day is here. As fans head to Kentucky, hat boxes in tow, to witness firsthand “the Greatest Two Minutes in Sports,” their thirst for bourbon-based cocktails may be just as strong as their hunger for an exciting (albeit short) race.

While the Mint Julep may be the official cocktail of the event, there are plenty of other drinks sure to please bettors, jockeys, and fans alike.

Mint Julep – Although today intimately associated with the Kentucky Derby, the Mint Julep’s exact origins are lost to the 18th century.

A Derby Day staple, the Mint Julep is a simple combination of bourbon, muddled mint, and simple syrup, served over crushed ice. Perhaps best known for the stainless-steel cup it’s served in, the Julep is refreshing enough to help beat the Kentucky heat.

Ingredients.

  • 2 ½ oz Bourbon
  • ¾ oz Simple Syrup
  • 1 ea Mint.
  1. Muddle mint into glass.
  2. Combine remaining ingredients into the glass.
  3. Add crushed ice.
  4. Garnish with mint and enjoy.

The Kentuckey Mule

A riff on the vodka-infused Moscow Mule, the Kentucky Mule is instead crafted with bourbon, lime juice, and ginger beer served in an iconic copper mug. The sweetness of the Southern spirit is balanced beautifully by the zippy spice of ginger beer, making for a quaffable sip ideal for day drinking.

THE STORY BEHIND THE KENTUCKY MULE

The Moscow Mule — a simple combination of vodka, ginger beer, and lime juice — is a mainstay at every bar. And with a drink this simple, the variations are endless. The Kentucky Mule subs vodka for bourbon — hence its name, which pays tribute to the land of origin of America’s native spirit: bourbon.

Bourbon adds a honeyed sweetness and dose of extra flavor to an otherwise refreshingly light drink. The slight pepperiness inherent to bourbon plays well with the spiciness of ginger beer, and the addition of fresh lime juice imparts the Mule with a sippable zippiness. Just pour into your favorite copper mug with lots of ice, and enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces bourbon
  • 1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 3-4 ounces ginger beer
  • Garnish: lime wheel

  1. Fill a copper mug with ice.
  2. Add bourbon, lime juice, and ginger beer and stir to combine.
  3. Garnish with lime wheel.

The Sparkling Rose Julep.

While the Julep is a simple creation, there are plenty of ways to jazz up the classic and add more depth. This recipe does so by adding dark rum, Crème de Pêche de Vigne, two types of bitters (Angostura and orange), rose water, and Cava. Rather than muddled lime, the recipe incorporates mint syrup for a smoother, bubblier, slightly more sophisticated take on the classic Derby drink.

THE STORY BEHIND THE SPARKLING ROSE JULEP.

The Kentucky Derby favorite reportedly made its first written appearance in “Travels of Four Years and a Half in the United States,” an 1803 page-turner dedicated to then-president Thomas Jefferson. The drink became associated with the races in 1938, when it was sold in commemorative glassware at Churchill Downs on Derby Day.

The Kentucky Derby favorite reportedly made its first written appearance in “Travels of Four Years and a Half in the United States,” an 1803 page-turner dedicated to then-president Thomas Jefferson. The drink became associated with the races in 1938, when it was sold in commemorative glassware at Churchill Downs on Derby Day.

A classic Mint Julep has a simple formula — whiskey, sugar, mint, muddle — making it suitable for riffing with different spirits and mixers. This version pairs Four Roses bourbon with dark rum, two types of bitters, rose water, and liqueur. A bubbly Cava float makes it particularly festive.

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ ounces Four Roses bourbon
  • ½ ounce Plantation dark rum
  • ½ ounce Jacoulot Crème de Peche de Vigne 
  • ½ ounce mint-infused simple syrup
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 2 dashes Regans orange bitters
  • 4 drops rose water 
  • Cava top
  • Mint sprigs and rose petals for garnish (optional)

  1. Combine all ingredients except Cava in a Julep cup with crushed ice.
  2. Stir with a swizzle.
  3. Top with Cava and add garnishes, if using.

Whiskey Smash

A cousin of the Julep, the Whiskey Smash adds muddled lemon to the recipe for an extra zesty pop. As it’s not served in the classic Julep cup, it’s lower-maintenance while adding pizzazz to any watch party.

This 19th century citrus-inflected drink has made something of a comeback in recent years, riding the whiskey wave.

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz Bourbon
  • 1 oz Simple Syrup
  • 1/4 ea Lemon muddled

  1. Combine all ingredients in shaker tin .
  2. Add ice to small shaker tin.
  3. Shake vigorously, until tin is frosted over.
  4. Pour contents of shaker into chilled rocks glass
  5. Garnish with mint and enjoy.

The Italian Julep.

Not a bourbon fan but still want to partake in the festivities? This recipe may be for you. Swapping out bourbon for Cynar and adding grapefruit juice, lime juice, and raspberry syrup, this is a lower-proof option for lovers of all things bitter and earthy.

THE STORY BEHIND THE ITALIAN JULEP.

The classic Mint Julep gets an Italian accent with this cocktail from Boleo, a rooftop bar above Chicago’s Kimpton Gray Hotel. Swapping out bourbon or whiskey for Cynar, an amaro with distinctly vegetal flavors, also makes it a lower-proof drink. (At Boleo, it’s called a Cynar Julep.)

Ingredients:

  • 1½ ounces Cynar Italian amaro
  • 1 ounce grapefruit juice
  • ¼ ounce raspberry syrup, such as Monin
  • ¼ ounce lime juice
  • Fresh mint, for garnish

  • Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake to combine.
  • Pour into a Julep cup over crushed ice, and garnish with mint.

The Strawberry & Maple Brown Derby.

A take on the classic Brown Derby — a simple drink made with bourbon, grapefruit juice, and honey syrup — this riff offers a depth of flavor while remaining surprisingly sessionable. Combine bourbon, maple syrup, grapefruit juice, and chopped strawberries for a drink reminiscent of a pancake breakfast.

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 ounces of bourbon
  • 1 ounce of grapefruit juice
  • ½ ounce of maple syrup
  • 3 chopped strawberries plus more for garnish

  1. Fill cocktail shaker with bourbon, grapefruit juice, maple syrup, and chopped strawberries.
  2. Shake mixture then double strain into the serving glass.
  3. Garnish with a strawberry.

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