The 6 Best Cocktails for the Kentucky Derby

Put on your fanciest hat and grab one of these cocktails made for the Kentucky Derby.

Christopher Osburnby Christopher Osburn
Photo: YelenaYemchuk, Getty Images.

When you watch the Super Bowl, you can be pretty sure you are in for around three hours of gameplay. A World Series game could go into extra innings and end up being four, five, or even six hours long. But the Kentucky Derby is guaranteed to only last for a few minutes. There’s ten hours of coverage for a two-minute race. Talk about a letdown. Luckily, cocktails make everything better.

Spritz to the Finish

Photo: Monica Wolf.

Photo: Monica Wolf.

Ingredients:

For the cocktail:

  • 1 ounce ginger simple syrup
  • 1 ounce bourbon
  • 4 blackberries
  • Prosecco or sparkling wine, chilled

For the ginger simple syrup:

  • 1 piece of ginger
  • 1 cup turbinado sugar
  • 1 cup water

Preparation:

Peel ginger and slice thinly. Combine ginger, sugar, and water in sauce pan and bring to a boil, stirring as sugar dissolves. Simmer for 10 minutes and chill. Combine ginger simple syrup, bourbon, and 3 blackberries in shaker. Muddle blackberries, add ice, and shake. Strain into a champagne glass, top with Prosecco. Garnish with blackberry on rim.

Cocktail by Monica Wolf, the Kentucky Derby’s bourbon ambassador.

The Southern Charm

Photo: Monica Wolf.

Photo: Monica Wolf.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup black tea
  • 1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 ounces simple syrup
  • 1 1/2 ounces bourbon

Preparation:

Steep the black tea and chill. Combine tea, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, and bourbon into shaker. Add ice and shake vigorously. Strain into mason jar with ice. Garnish with lemon wheel.

Cocktail by Monica Wolf, the Kentucky Derby’s bourbon ambassador.

Blade and Bow “New” Fashioned

Photo: Blade and Bow.

Photo: Blade and Bow.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 ounces Blade and Bow Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
  • 1 1/2 ounces simple syrup
  • 3/4 ounce St-Germain

Preparation:

Muddle 1 orange slice. Add ingredients. Add ice. Stir. Serve in an old fashioned or rocks glass. Top with a splash of soda and garnish with an orange slice and cherry.

Cocktail by Blade and Bow.

Thumbtack Bartenders’ Mint Julep

Photo: Thumbtack Bartenders.

Photo: Thumbtack Bartenders.

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces bourbon or rye
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup
  • Mint leaves
  • Crushed ice

Preparation:

Make simple syrup to taste (two parts sugar to one part water is standard). Heat speeds the process along, but isn’t compulsory. Just make sure it’s not hot when make the drink. Put the leaves in cup or glass. Silver cups are old-school and look great, but work with what you have. Gently muddle the leaves. If you don’t have a muddler, the back of a spoon is fine. The object here is to gently press them, not break them apart. Add the syrup and bourbon, then the crushed ice. Stick a straw in, and garnish lavishly with mint.

Cocktail by Thumbtack Bartenders.

Virgil’s Maker’s Mint Julep

Photo: Virgil's Real Barbecue.

Photo: Virgil’s Real Barbecue.

Ingredients:

  •  1 bunch mint (reserve sprigs for garnish)
  • 1 (1-liter) bottle of Maker’s Mark bourbon whisky
  • 1 1/2 cups simple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar (for garnish)

Preparation:

Chop up most of the mint, reserving springs for garnish, and add to the bottle of bourbon. Steep with the top on for 24 hours, and then strain out the mint. Thoroughly mix the infused bourbon with simple syrup in a large pitcher. Pour into tall glasses filled with crushed ice. Garnish each drink with a mint spring and a sprinkle of the powdered sugar.

Cocktail by Virgil’s Real Barbecue.

Derby Ice

Photo: by O Godfrey.

Photo: by O Godfrey.

Ingredients:

For the cocktail:

  • Ice
  • 150g water
  • 15g Woodford Reserve Bourbon Whiskey
  • 10g mint bourbon sugar
  • 1/3 gelatin sheet
  • 3 drops of spearmint oil

For the maple mixture:

  • 250g BLiS bourbon maple syrup
  • 430g water
  • 3g lemon juice
  • Mint leaves (for garnish)

For the whiskey:

  • 500g Woodford Reserve Bourbon Whiskey

Preparation:

Putting the ice in Derby Ice: Bloom gelatin in cold water until soft. Squeeze out excess water. Mix the water, bourbon, mint bourbon sugar, gelatin, and spearmint oil. Freeze the mixture for about 12 hours. Crush the now-frozen boozy ice and distribute into glasses.

Mixing the maple base: Create your maple mixture by thoroughly combining the BLiS Bourbon Maple Syrup, water, and lemon juice. Once the maple mixture is combined, add the Woodford Reserve Bourbon Whiskey. Pour the liquid base evenly over the homemade ice in each glass. Garnish with a sprig of mint and enjoy while wearing a large hat and watching the derby at I|O Godfrey’s rooftop.

From O Godfrey at the Godfrey Hotel in Chicago.