The Kentucky Derby is the most watched horse race in the United States and it is much more than the riveting race itself. Thousands of spectators flock to Churchill Downs every year to not only watch the most exciting two minutes in sports but partake in the thrilling festivities. The Derby is host to a fashion contest and has even earned itself an official cocktail.
We’ve curated a list of Kentucky Derby worthy drinks using the state’s iconic spirit. Whether watching remote or in person, these cocktails are sure to keep your whistle wet.
1. Mint Julep
We’ll begin with the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, the Mint Julep. This derby classic cocktail is easily recognizable for its “Julep” tin cup it is traditionally served in. It’s a simply made three-ingredient cocktail combining bourbon, sugar, and mint. The essential element in a Julep, however, is the crushed ice that will gradually melt and dilute the drink as you enjoy it.
Named for one of the greatest racehorses of all time, Man o’ War, who won 20 out of 21 races. The American thoroughbred lost the chance to race in the Kentucky Derby, but it did win the two other Triple Crown races, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes, in 1920. The cocktail named in its honor packs a powerful kick that’s softened by its citrus flavors. Beware, this drink will get you going as fast as its namesake crossed the finish line.
Dating back to the late 19th century, the Horse’s Neck is a three-ingredient cocktail named for its long curly lemon peel that lines the glass. It was first served non-alcoholic with just ginger beer and bitters; in 1910, the brandy “kick” was added. The drink is often served swapping out the brandy for bourbon. For an authentic Derby Day drink, we recommend going with the native Kentucky spirit.
This is a different type of derby, but because it uses bourbon, it makes this list. The Brown Derby is, in fact, named after a Los Angeles restaurant that was built in the shape of a derby hat. It is unlike other whiskey cocktails in that it blends the sweetness from the bourbon with the citrus tang of grapefruit juice, creating a flavor that is light and fresh. It’s considered a brunch cocktail for its easy drinking qualities, and for that, it is a splendid choice to enjoy through the festivities of Derby day.
The Kentucky Mule is a variation on the widely popular Moscow Mule, swapping out vodka for bourbon, hence the “Kentucky” moniker. It takes the state’s spirit and combines it with ginger beer and lime juice. The use of bourbon makes it a more flavorful drink, it’s sweet with a bit of spice and is lightly citrus. It’s incredibly easy to make and if a copper mug isn’t available, a highball glass will do just fine.