The Kentucky Derby is one of the most anticipated horse races of the year. Millions of people from all over the world tune in to watch the race, and everyone has their own favorite way to celebrate. If you're looking for some delicious cocktails to enjoy while watching the Derby, look no further!
In this blog post, we will feature 20 of the best drinks for celebrating the race. Whether you're a bourbon lover or prefer something fruity and refreshing, we've got you covered. Cheers!
1. Brown Derby
The Brown Derby is a classic cocktail that has been enjoyed for generations. According to Dale DeGroff’s 2002 book, “The Craft of the Cocktail,” the drink was created in the 1930s at the Vendôme Club in Los Angeles. The cocktail gets its name from the nearby Brown Derby diner, which was shaped like a derby hat. However, there is another side of the story about this cocktail’s origin.
The cocktail first appeared in the book "Hollywood Cocktails" in 1933, but it also goes by another name, the De Rigueur Cocktail. Some say the recipe was pulled from British bartender Harry Craddock's "The Savoy Cocktail Book," while others believe two drinks with the same recipe were given different names and found in two different cities.
2. Oaks Lily
When it comes to horse-racing drinks, there is no doubt that the Mint Julep reigns supreme. This iconic cocktail is deeply intertwined with the Kentucky Derby, the most famous horse-racing event in the US and perhaps the world. But even if you know nothing about furlongs or claiming races, anyone can enjoy a refreshing julep—especially during this time of year, as we gear up for Derby Day.
The same sentiment goes for another famous Kentucky racing beverage: the Oaks Lily, which happens to be the official cocktail of the Bluegrass State's other big race, the Kentucky Oaks. Dating back to 1875, this iconic drink has long been enjoyed by folks at Churchill Downs and beyond.
This prestigious event takes place at Churchill Downs, and like the Derby, it attracts a stylish crowd of horse lovers. And what would a day at the races be without a cool, stimulating cocktail?
The Oak Lily are served in special keepsake glasses and feature vodka, orange liqueur, cranberry juice, lemon juice, and simple syrup.
The Preakness Stakes is another well-known horse race and is held annually on the third Saturday in May at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland. This race is also known for its signature drink, the Preakness—a variation on the classic Manhattan.
This cocktail drink was created by bartender and spirits expert Allen Katz. In his drink, Katz makes only one minor tweak to the original Manhattan recipe, but it adds a considerable amount of nuance—he adds a splash of benedictine.
Benedictine is a herbal liqueur that adds a touch of sweetness and depth to the drink, making it a great cocktail while watching the horse race.
4. Blackberry Mint Julep Margarita
There's no doubt that the Mint Julep and the Margarita are two of the most iconic springtime cocktails. These two drinks have become synonymous with two celebrated US holidays, the Kentucky Derby and Cinco de Mayo.
Given that these holidays often fall on or around the same weekend, there is sometimes some overlap between them. On some years, a double holiday known as Derby de Mayo or Cinco de Derby is celebrated with copious amounts of cocktails!
But why choose one when you can have both? With the Blackberry Mint Julep Margarita, from tequila expert Gaston Martinez, you can enjoy the best of both drinks.
This delicious cocktail combines tequila, blackberries, honey syrup, lime juice, with mint leaves, sugar, and crushed ice. So whether you're sipping it on the sidelines of the race or enjoying it at home, you're sure to have a winning experience.
5. Jockey Club
The Jockey Club is a classic cocktail with a rich history. First appearing in David Embury's 1948 book, "The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks," the Jockey Club is a bourbon Manhattan with a dash of maraschino liqueur and no bitters.
Interestingly, there is actually another version of this cocktail that is just as popular today as the one we’re featuring—this version calls for gin instead of bourbon as its base spirit. It also incorporates fresh lemon juice and simple syrup to create a sweet-and-tart flavor profile. It adds a dash of bitters and calls for crème de noyaux (a rich 19th-century liqueur made from apricot kernels).
The true reason for these two recipes having the same name remains unclear. While it may be simply a coincidence, some have suggested that the names of both cities lend some credence to this theory.
Both London and New York are home to their own Jockey Clubs, which may simply have influenced the authors when they named their drink recipes.
6. Albariño Mint Julep
Many consider traditional bourbon-based cocktails to be the ultimate cocktail for fans of horse racing, whether you’re watching the Kentucky Derby or just relaxing at home with friends.
However, these drinks have one major drawback: the high alcohol content can set you back if you don’t pace yourself. Luckily, bartender veteran, Alex Day has an ingenious solution to this problem: he makes a variation using white wine, specifically Albariño.
Albariño is a Spanish and Portuguese wine varietal that is bright, crisp, and full of fruit notes. It's perfect for a summer cocktail like the Julep, which traditionally uses simple syrup to sweeten the drink. To stand in for the simple syrup, crème de pêche is used to sweeten and smoothen the assertive acidity of the Albariño.
7. Horse’s Neck
The Horse's Neck is the perfect cocktail choice, whether you're celebrating at a Kentucky Derby party or simply need a cool, exhilarating drink on a hot summer's day. This classic Kentucky Derby cocktail is ideal for quenching your thirst and revitalizing your spirits on even the hottest days, a blend of crisp ginger ale and a splash of bourbon.
But it isn't just timelessly restoring. Nicole Fas, a bartender and expert mixologist at La Pícara in Puerto Rico, also recommends the cocktail as an engaging warm-weather pick-me-up.
Fas' also has another variation of the cocktail. Instead of whiskey or brandy, she uses aged rum and lime juice. This spinoff is closer to Simon Ford's Lincoln Club Cooler, and it is just as easy to make.
8. Thin Mint Julep
The Mint Julep has been a staple of Kentucky Derby parties for years. This exhilarating cocktail, composed of bourbon, sugar, mint, and crushed ice, was first introduced to the southern United States in the 18th century. Since then, it has become one of the most popular summertime drinks.
The most well-known version of the julep is the bourbon-spiked Mint Julep, but cognac and brandy were also popular choices for early juleps. Nowadays, there are endless possibilities for flavor combinations, and the Thin Mint Julep is a modern twist on this classic cocktail.
Bartender Kristen Struckmeyer came up with this unique recipe that combines whiskey with Girl Scout cookies, and it's perfect for anyone who loves a good Kentucky Derby cocktail.
9. Bourbon Rickey
As the story goes, Colonel Joe Rickey was a Kentucky derby aficionado who lived in Washington, D.C., during the late 1800s. He was known around town for his fine taste in Bourbon and other spirits and spent many afternoons at Shoomaker's bar sampling various cocktails.
In true Rickey fashion, he eschewed sugary concoctions in favor of simple drinks that relied on just a few key ingredients.
One such drink was the Bourbon Rickey, which became famously named in his honor after he asked for a glass of bourbon mixed with sparkling water at the bar.
Though he may not have received a monument in his hometown as a tribute to his legendary drinking habits, it is clear that placing a moniker on such an iconic cocktail was truly the next best thing.
Then, one day, the bartender, a helpful chap named George Williamson, added freshly squeezed lime to the highball, and the Bourbon Rickey was born.
10. Bourbon Strawberry Iced Tea
The Kentucky Derby is a time-honored tradition, and there are few things more traditional than sipping on a delicious mint julep while watching the races. However, if you're looking for something a little different this year, why not try a Bourbon Strawberry Iced Tea? This energizing cocktail is perfect for warm spring days, and its pretty pink color is sure to stand out at any derby party.
When making Bourbon Strawberry Iced Tea, using a high-quality bourbon is always the best bet. This ensures that you get all the rich, boozy flavors that give this cocktail its signature richness and complexity.
However, if you're looking to mix things up, you can also try swapping out the bourbon for another dark spirit like an aged rum.
11. Gin On Gin Julep
When it comes to classic cocktails, few are as iconic as the Mint Julep. The Gin On Gin Julep is a stimulating cocktail that swaps out bourbon for gin and genever. The traditional recipe calls for bourbon, min, sugar, and crushed ice—Gin On Gin drink is a gin-based version.
Gin lends itself best to drinks with a dry or malty base, especially when accompanied by fresh and herbaceous flavors that balance out the potent botanicals within the spirit. One way to make sure this cocktail really pop is with genever, a type of gin dating back to the 16th century that often has warm, malty characteristics.
To complement this liquor and give this drink an extra burst of flavor, pair it with simple syrup, mint leaves, and sparkling club soda.
Get the recipe here.
12. Miamian’s Julep
As Kentucky Derby is set to begin, people flock to patios and outdoor havens to soak up some vitamin D and enjoy a cooling, chilled drink. But while fruity cocktails and boozy slushies are certainly delightful, they're often not complete without a splash of whiskey.
Whether your whiskey of choice is bourbon or rye, scotch or Irish whiskey, this spirit is often pushed to the back of the bar in favor of lighter and clearer spirits like rum, gin, vodka, and Blanco tequila.
As the bar manager at Villa Azur, Carlos Ramos is looking for ways to channel Miami's unique atmosphere into his cocktails.
His Miamian's Julep is a perfect example inspired by Miami's tropical vibes, culture, and eternal summer; this fresh take on the classic Mint Julep will surely please any die-hard Kentucky Derby fans.
13. Man O’ War
The legendary Man O' War is undoubtedly one of the greatest racehorses of all time. Named for his impressive victory record, which included an astonishing 20 out of 21 wins, this horse was a true champion.
But what many people might not know is that Man O' War was also a major influence on the sport itself. Aside from being the sire of another Triple Crown winner and grandfather to Seabiscuit, Man O' War took part in numerous races throughout his career.
And while he never ran in the Kentucky Derby himself, he did take home top honors at both the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes—proving himself to be a fierce competitor with rare athletic prowess. So it's no surprise that someone decided to create an exciting new cocktail in his honor.
14. Kentucky Flyer
The Kentucky Flyer is a popular cocktail that has become famous in the food and beverage scene for its unique combination of ingredients and its ties to the Kentucky Derby. This drink draws its inspiration from the state's reputation as a whiskey powerhouse, using rye whiskey, maraschino liqueur, and lemon juice as its key components.
What sets this cocktail apart from other popular drinks is its omission of crème de violette, a liqueur with a distinctive violet color that had long been a staple at Aviation-making bars.
Despite being one of the newer cocktails on the scene, the Kentucky Flyer quickly gained popularity among locals due to its well-balanced and stimulating flavor profile. In fact, it even caught the attention of notable bar legend and author Gary Regan, who featured it in his best-selling book, "101 Best New Cocktails" in 2011.
15. Pale Horse Rickey
The modern Pale Horse Rickey is a twist on the classic Bourbon Rickey and Gin Rickey, utilizing mezcal as the base spirit. This unique cocktail was created by China Morbosa, a renowned bartender and mixologist known for her innovative creations in the food and beverage industry.
Combined with equal parts Manzanilla sherry and fresh lemon juice, this Kentucky Derby cocktail will delight any palate looking for a daring combination of flavors. So if you're looking to try something new and exciting, be sure to uncork the modern Pale Horse Rickey!
16. High Horse
Whiskey plays a huge part in Kentucky Derby celebrations, and the liquor's fame also started in the country where the Derby was established. Whiskey is an American classic!
The United States has long been known for producing some of the finest whiskeys in this world, including legendary brands like Kentucky Bourbon and Tennessee whiskey.
However, what is less known is that this country's history is soaked in brandy and rum as well. Brandy came to the US with European immigrants, many of whom were settling in frontier towns and establishing thriving distilleries in states like Kentucky and New York. At the same time, winemakers were planting grapes on both coasts to produce this popular spirit.
Rum also has a long history in America, originating among enslaved people in the Caribbean who fermented molasses into an alcoholic beverage that quickly spread to New England with the British colonization of that region in the 17th century.
By 1757, rum was by far the most popular beverage consumed by Americans, with an average person consuming about 3.7 gallons annually.
Shannon Tebay Sidle is a talented bartender and mixologist known for her ingenuity and creativity in crafting unique cocktails. One of her most famous creations is the High Horse cocktail, inspired by colonial-era ingredients and flavors.
Kirschwasser, or kirsch, a clear brandy distilled from sour Morello cherries and their stones, is also used to tie all these bold flavors together. The final result is a deliciously boozy and full-flavored cocktail perfect for celebrating the Kentucky Derby.
17. Kentucky Mule
The Moscow Mule is one of the most popular cocktails in the United States. Its revitalizing combination of vodka, lime, and ginger beer has earned its place at the top of the cocktail charts. The Moscow Mule was a pioneering drink in a new category—mules.
Today, there are tons of variations on this Kentucky derby-inspired cocktail, using different types of liquor, sweeteners, and mixers.
Subbing bourbon for the vodka results in a more flavorful drink perfect for sipping at the Kentucky Derby. The best results come from using a high-quality ginger beer that can hold its own against the bold flavors of whiskey.
You can also try making your own ginger syrup if you want to experiment. Just use club soda as your bubbly topper to not overpower the syrup's delicate flavor.
18. Mint Julep
The Mint Julep is a classic bourbon cocktail that has been a staple of southern cuisine for centuries. Best known for being the signature cocktail of the Kentucky Derby, this sultry refresher of bourbon, sugar, mint, and crushed ice should be enjoyed all year round.
With roots tracing back to the 18th century, the Mint Julep was first documented in print by John Davis in 1803 in his book on American travel. He described it as a “dram” composed of bourbon infused with mint that was a morning drink often enjoyed by Virginians.
Today, this iconic Kentucky derby cocktail remains just as popular as ever.
19. Bee’s Knees
The Bee's Knees cocktail has long been a favorite for those attending the Kentucky Derby. This drink is perfectly suited to the warm and sunny conditions, which are typical during the Derby season, and its simple ingredients make it easy to make at home.
This cocktail's sweet, citrusy flavor pairs perfectly with the classic chips that are often enjoyed at the Derby.
Additionally, the fun name of this cocktail is sure to get any Derby party started on a lighthearted note. Overall, if you're looking for a perfect Kentucky Derby cocktail that's fresh and unique, then look no further than the Bee's Knees!
The Kentucky Derby is a time-honored tradition that calls for a festive atmosphere. And what could be more festive than a refreshing glass of sangria? This Spanish cocktail is traditionally made with red wine, fruit, and a splash of brandy or sherry.
However, there are many different variations in the classic recipe. For instance, some sangrias use white wine instead of red, and some even add soda water or lemon-lime soda for a bit of extra fizz.
No matter what ingredients you choose, sangria is the perfect drink for Kentucky Derby parties. Its fruity flavor pairs well with savory dishes like derby pie, and its vibrant color is sure to add a touch of fun to any gathering.