Anyone who’s seen the Kentucky Derby knows it’s more than the most-watched horse race in the United States. The Kentucky Derby is about the bourbon cocktails and festivities that start long before the horses cross the finish line. From fashion contests to the chance to spot celebrities, the Derby is better with a cocktail in hand. The classic is, of course, the Mint Julep, but if you’re looking to mix things up, these 9 additional bourbon drinks make great Derby Day cocktails.
The History of The Kentucky Derby Cocktails
The Kentucky Derby was founded in 1875, and although the race is a mere 2 minutes long, the anticipation is what it’s all about. Founder William Clark would throw large parties the night before the race in what is now called Churchill Downs. Famous personalities from all over would be convinced to go to the Derby the next day after the lavish festivities.
The Mint Julep was already being made across Kentucky when the Derby started. According to lore, Clark made a giant bourbon julep and garnished it with mint to impress the visiting Polish Countess Helena. She was convinced to go to the race the next day, solidifying the Kentucky Derby’s status as a prestigious event. Thus, the Mint Julep became the official cocktail of the Derby.
While the traditional cocktail of the day is the Mint Julep, there are many variations and bourbon cocktails to drink for the Derby. Whether you’re watching the race or simply want a bourbon cocktail, there’s sure to be a drink to enjoy.
1. Mint Julep
The official drink of the Kentucky Derby, the Mint Julep is a simply made three-ingredient cocktail combining bourbon, sugar, and mint. The essential element in a Julep is the crushed ice that will gradually melt and dilute in the easily recognizable tin cup.
This Bourbon cocktail is perfect for spring. Its refreshing mix of strawberries, lemon juice, simple syrup, Angostura bitters, and ginger beer nods to Kentucky with bourbon. This isn’t your traditional derby drink, but a refreshing mix of spring flavors.
Created in Kentucky, the Seelbach is a complex sparkling bourbon cocktail. Made with bourbon and orange liqueur and topped with champagne, the intriguing flavor comes from the combination of Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters.
With its refreshing taste, the Kentucky Maid mixes lime juice, simple syrup, mint, and cucumber for an elevated bourbon cocktail experience. The drink was created in New York, but it makes a delicious Derby cocktail.
While the greatest racehorse of all time, Man O’ War, never raced in the Kentucky Derby, he did win the other two races in the Triple Crown. You can revive the horse’s memory with this bourbon, orange liqueur, vermouth, and lemon juice cocktail. The cocktail isn’t for the faint of heart: its powerful kick is only subdued by its citrus flavors.
Dating back to the late 19th century, the Horse’s Neck is a three-ingredient cocktail named for the long curly lemon peel lining the glass. It was first served non-alcoholic with just ginger beer and Angostura bitters. In 1910, the brandy kick was added. For an authentic Derby Day drink, we recommend going with the native Kentucky spirit.
The Brown Derby is named after a Los Angeles restaurant that was built in the shape of a derby hat. Although it’s referring to a different type of derby, it shares the base ingredient of bourbon. Unlike other whiskey cocktails, the sweetness from the bourbon is blended with the citrus tang of grapefruit juice for light and fresh flavor. The Brown Derby is a wonderful brunch cocktail as well as a splendid choice to enjoy through the festivities of Derby Day.
The Kentucky Mule is a variation on the popular Moscow Mule, swapping out vodka for bourbon. It’s sweet and spicy, with ginger beer, lime juice, and a depth of flavor from the bourbon. Make this refreshing bourbon cocktail in the traditional copper mug or an understated highball glass.