The Kentucky Derby is today, and you know what that means: We have yet another American sporting event that gives us a socially appropriate reason to day-drink.
The point here is celebration. Some of us may be celebrating the nation’s longest running sporting event; the race has been presented by Churchill downs since 1875. Some of us may be celebrating the indomitable spirit and incomparable athleticism of the Thoroughbred. Some of us may be celebrating the fashion; Derby Day is one of the few sporting events — if not the only one — in which American attendees look as if they were dressed for the nuptials of British monarchy, which is to say, classy-as-hell and time-machiney-awesome (which is exactly how Will and Kate described the dress code on their wedding invitations).
But if you’re here, you’re celebrating bourbon, and the Kentucky Derby’s traditional beverage, the Mint Julep. Almost 120,000 of these cocktails are served each year at the Derby, a testament to their enduring popularity. While you probably won’t be having quite as many guests at your Derby Day celebrations, you certainly won’t hurt your own popularity by having a few cocktail recipes prepared. Crush the ice, pluck the mint, pour the bourbon…and…we’re off!
Derby Day calls for bourbon. Drink like a pharaoh and pour from Maker’s Mark’s commemorative American Pharaoh bottle, which celebrates the incredible animal athlete’s accomplishments on the track. In 2015, he became the first Thoroughbred in history to win racing’s Grand Slam: the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, the Belmont Stakes, and the Breeder’s Cup. Raise a cup in his honor, and feel good about doing it; a portion of proceeds from the limited-edition bottle will go toward supporting the nonprofit Kentucky Derby Museum.
Sazerac may be in the Pacific Northwest, but their name is an homage to a famous southern cocktail. Belly up to the bar, and you’re in more than capable hands when it comes to mixing up a cocktail with a markedly southern accent. Lead Bartender Keith Villanueva shares his recipe for a Derby favorite:
- 2.5 oz Buffalo Trace Single Barrel Bourbon
- 0.5 oz Mint Syrup
- 3 Dashes House-Made Mint Bitters
- Build in julep cup over crushed ice.
- Top with more crushed ice; garnish with mint spring and dash of powdered sugar.
Bourbon being the iconic spirit of the Kentucky Derby, you’d be wise to be well-stocked in it when the start gate opens. Or, if you’re in Portland, make your way to Red Star Tavern, where the bourbon list is extensive, and where the handcrafted drinks are bright, tart, and refreshing, like this Smoky Mountain Sipper.
- 1.5 oz Bourbon
- .5 oz Fresh lemon juice
- .5 oz Blackberry puree
- .25 oz Fernet
- Couple sprigs of mint
- Combine all ingredients, shake and strain into a rocks glass with crushed ice.
- Garnish with mint.
Man O’ War. Seabiscuit. Secretariat. If you’re behind on your Kentucky Derby biographies, take a seat at The Bookstore, order a julep, and crack open the books. It’s only a matter of time before Hollywood makes another racehorse movie, and you don’t want to race to finish the book before it hits the silver screen.
- 1 oz Bourbon(Buffalo Trace)
- 1 oz Sherry blend (using equal parts Lustau Pedro Ximenez, Fino, and East India Solera)
- .25 oz Simple syrup
- Fresh mint
- In a Lewis bag crush 4-5 scoops of ice.
- Place 4-6 sprigs in the bottom of a julep cup and add .25 oz simple syrup and give a light muddle.
- Top julep cup with ice and add bourbon and sherry blend.
- Add straws and mound crushed ice on top.
- Fresh mint garnish.
For Derby Day, Matt Slocum presents this refreshing riff on the classic mint julep:
- 1 teaspoon superfine sugar
- 1.5 oz Maker’s Mark Bourbon
- 0.5 oz Root Liqueur
- Few sprigs of mint
- Muddle mint with sugar, top with crushed ice.
- Add Maker’s Mark and Root Liqueur, stir.
- Garnish with a smacked mint leaf.
Nothing gets the blood pumping like a run for the roses. Cool off and chill out with this beverage, featuring Underwood Rose wine, fresh juice, and whiskey.
- 2.5 oz Underwood Rose
- 2.5 oz Whiskey
- 3 oz Fresh blood orange juice
- .75 oz Passion fruit syrup
- .5 oz Orgeat
- Combine, stir, strain into cocktail glass, garnish with orange twist or wedge.
- Makes 2 servings around 7 ounces each.
Looking for a striking, floral riff on the favorite julep? Jennifer Bullistron shares a cocktail that is sure to please fans of the classic and adventurous drinkers alike.
- 2 tablespoons hibiscus honey simple syrup*
- Handful of fresh mint
- 1½ parts Maker’s Mark® Bourbon
- Splash of distilled water
- Chunk of honeycomb
- Fresh mint sprigs for garnish
- In a large glass or cocktail shaker, muddle together the simple syrup and fresh mint leaves.
- Add the bourbon and distilled water and mix together.
- Fill a julep or rocks glass with crushed ice.
- Pour the bourbon mixture over the crushed ice.
- Stir, fill to the top with more crushed ice.
- Garnish with chunk of honeycomb and mint sprig.
*Hibiscus Honey Simple Syrup
- ¾ cup Water
- ¾ cup Honey
- 1 cup Dried hibiscus flowers
- In a small pot, combine the water, honey and hibiscus flowers.
- Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Place a strainer over a bowl and pour the syrup into it to strain out the flowers.
- Shake the strainer a little bit to get all of the syrup out.
- Discard the flowers and allow the syrup to cool before using.
Bring together spring’s herbs and flavors to celebrate the season’s bounty and its famous sporting event, with this julep by Dulcie and Sarah of Two-Tarts.
- 5-6 fresh mint leaves, plus a sprig for garnish
- 5-6 fresh lemon leaves, plus a sprig for garnish
- 1 long thyme sprig, plus a sprig for garnish
- 1 part granulated sugar
- 1 part water
- 2 parts Maker’s Mark® Bourbon
- Crushed ice
- In your julep cup, add 1 teaspoon granulated sugar and 1 tablespoon water.
- Stir for a minute to let sugar fully dissolve.
- Place the herb sprigs into the julep cup, and muddle into the sugar water. Do it enough to release the herbal flavor, but not enough to completely brutalize the leaves.
- Stir in the 2 parts Maker’s Mark.
- Add crushed ice to fill the cup to the top. Garnish with remaining herb sprigs.
If bourbon isn’t your thing, we’ve still got you covered. Trisha Antonsen shares a celebratory bubbly cocktail that has real Derby Day flavor.
- 2 oz Cachaca
- 2-3 Fresh Mint Leaves
- 1/8 oz Lime Juice
- 2 tsp Superfine Sugar
- Brut Cava (Sparkling Wine)
- In the base of a cocktail shaker, combine fresh mint, sugar and lime juice.
- Muddle together, then add ice and cachaca, and shake until frosty and cold.
- Strain into a champagne flute, then fill the glass with cava.