Kentucky Derby Cocktails

Get out your fanciest hat and let’s make Kentucky Derby drinks! Here’s what to make on Derby Day or for any party needing some Southern flair!

a mint julep in a silver cup

Get out your julep cups, bowties and elaborate hats, y’all! The Kentucky Derby is here.

Whether or not you like to watch horse racing, Derby Day parties are a great reason to enjoy spring food, bourbon drinks and chocolate desserts on the first weekend in May.

From the mint julep (the official drink of the Kentucky Derby) to more adventurous bourbon cocktails, there is lots of inspiration below for your Derby party planning.

Taking a trip to Louisville, Ky.? Check out where we stayed, ate, drank, shopped and explored during our weekend on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in this Louisville Travel Guide! (via feastandwest.com)

What is the Kentucky Derby?

The Kentucky Derby is a race of thoroughbred horses that is held on the first Saturday in May each year. It takes place at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.

The Kentucky Derby is the first leg of the American Triple Crown. The Triple Crown is the championship title given to a horse that wins the three main horse races in a single season: the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes.

When is the Kentucky Derby?

The Kentucky Derby & Oaks will be held May 3 and 4, 2024 at Churchill Downs in Louisville.

A two-day event, the Oaks is always held on Friday and the Derby on Saturday. The Kentucky Oaks is another race for 3-year-old Thoroughbred fillies, which are female horses.

However, in 2020, it was postponed to September. It is nicknamed “the most exciting two minutes in sports,” because the race typically lasts just that long.

Salted Brown Butter Bourbon Rice Krispie Treats stacked on a white background

Kentucky Derby party food

If you are planning a party to watch the Kentucky Derby or any of the other Triple Crown races, you’re going to need some food and drinks with Southern flair!

And lots of bourbon! The Kentucky Derby weekend is notorious for using up barrels of bourbon. Louisville is home to horse farms and distilleries galore, making this event the perfect marriage of Kentucky heritage.

I pulled together a full list of drinks for you below, but if you need some help planning your food menu, check out these derby party recipes:

Savory derby food

  • Set out bowls of spicy cheese straws, which are staples of Southern parties.
  • There’s not much more southern than a big plate of deviled eggs. Top them with chives, jalapeño slices or bacon bits.
  • Make pimento cheese for a dip or serve it on sandwiches. (Add bacon if you dare.) Dill dip is another great dip for a veggie plate.
  • The Kentucky Hot Brown is the signature Louisville sandwich filled with roasted turkey, juicy tomatoes, smoked bacon and melted white cheddar cheese, that’s smothered in mornay sauce.

Derby desserts

Now that we’ve got the snacks figured out, let’s talk about the drinks!

I compiled a ton of recipes for Kentucky Derby drinks for you below, so keep reading!

a bottle of bourbon with a jigger and a jar of mint syrup

Kentucky Derby bourbon

Most of the cocktails below call for bourbon, the official spirit of the horse race. If you have a favorite, certainly feel free to use the bourbon of your choice. However, bourbon is just one of the types of whiskey you can use.

My husband and I love Old Forester for its sweet caramel flavor it brings to a drink at a good price, but there are many more options out there that would be equally delicious.

Each year, the Kentucky Derby has a whiskey sponsor for its mint juleps. In 2024, it’s Woodford Reserve. So you could always go with their pick each year when you watch the Derby.

Angel’s Envy, Four Roses, Maker’s Mark and Bulleit are some of my favorites, and you really can’t go wrong with any of them! Check out my Bourbon 101 guide if you need help picking a brand to buy for your bourbon cocktails.

Kentucky Derby drinks

These Derby cocktails are sure to delight you and your guests on Derby Day. Now the only question is, which one will you make first?!

1
a mint julep with a heaping scoop of crushed ice
Classic Mint Julep
Served in a silver julep cup, the official cocktail of the Kentucky Derby is the mint julep, a classic bourbon drink with sweet aromatics and a strong, boozy flavor.
Traditional mint juleps muddle together pure sugar and mint leaves, but I prefer to make them with mint simple syrup to save time. Packed with crushed ice, it’s refreshing and icy — almost like a minty snow cone. Don't forget to stock up on fresh mint leaves for garnishes! But trust me, you don't need bottles of mint julep mix. This cocktail is best fresh.
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2
A drink for the Preakness Stakes, the Black-Eyed Susan Cocktail is so named for the Maryland-shaped blanket of yellow flowers that is draped around the winner's neck. Vodka and elderflower liqueur join pineapple, orange and lime juices for a sunny drink worthy of race-watching. (via feastandwest.com)
Black-Eyed Susan
This one is the official drink of the Preakness Stakes, the next leg in the Triple Crown that's held toward the end of May. Named for the Maryland-shaped blanket of yellow flowers that is draped around the winner’s neck. Vodka and elderflower liqueur join pineapple, orange juice and lime juice for a sunny drink worthy of race-watching.
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3
A drink for the races, the Belmont Jewel is the #1 drink for toasting the Belmont Stakes. Bourbon, lemonade and pomegranate juice served over crushed ice make for a fruity punch that's delicious all summer long. (via feastandwest.com)
Belmont Jewel
The third jewel in the Triple Crown is the Belmont Stakes in June, and the Belmont Jewel is the official cocktail. This one is a combination of bourbon, lemonade and pomegranate juice served over crushed ice with a lemon twist. It's a fruity punch that’s delicious all summer long.
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4
www.cakenknife.com
Sparkling Ginger Mint Julep
The ginger mint julep is made with ginger syrup and bourbon, with a dash of seltzer water to help soothe the bite of the bourbon.
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5
anerdcooks.com
Derby Cup Cocktail
The Derby Cup is a boozy concoction combining a Pimm’s Cup and a mint julep, and so very refreshing!
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6
asparagus and bacon in a bloody derby cocktail
Bloody Derby
Make a Bloody Mary with bourbon instead of vodka for a southern spin on the classic brunch drink.
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7
an old-fashioned cocktail with a black kitchen towel and a wooden muddler
Classic Old-Fashioned Cocktail
A stiff bourbon old-fashioned cocktail is just the ticket to celebrate the Kentucky Derby.
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8
spicysouthernkitchen.com
Mint Julep Jello Shots
Make your own jello shots that taste like mini mint juleps!
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9
www.gastronomblog.com
Peach Mint Julep
There’s not much more southern than fresh peaches! And they pair so well with bourbon too.
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10
a peanut butter old-fashioned on a white background with a blue plate of peanut butter cup candies in the background
Chocolate Peanut Butter Old-Fashioned
This recipe calls for peanut butter whiskey, but you can use regular bourbon if you like. I recommend using pecan bitters or black walnut bitters to give this one a Derby Day spin!
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11
kentucky mule in a copper mule mug with a citrus reamer
Kentucky Mule
The Kentucky mule is like a classic Moscow mule with ginger beer and lime, only with Kentucky bourbon instead of vodka.
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12
www.stetted.com
Vanilla Lemonade
Not all derby drinks have to be boozy. This vanilla lemonade has a touch of floral notes and its sweetness is thanks to homemade vanilla bean syrup.
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13
Sip on this smooth, ice-filled Irish Whiskey Honey Mint Julep made with local wildflower honey, Irish whiskey and fresh mint. From St. Patrick's Day to the Kentucky Derby, it's a sweet toast to springtime. (via feastandwest.com)
Irish Whiskey Mint Julep
Skip the bourbon and try Irish whiskey instead for a fun twist on this classic drink! Adventurous bourbon fans will adore this one.
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14
The storied Seelbach Bourbon Champagne Cocktail is a glitzy cocktail worthy of celebration! The marriage of bourbon whiskey, champagne, orange and cocktail bitters is a festive way to toast both the holidays and the new year. Cheers! (via feastandwest.com)
Seelbach Bourbon Champagne Cocktail
Bourbon and bubbly may sound like a weird combination, but this Gatsby-esque duo is in fact quite delicious.
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15
www.theculinarycompass.com
Watermelon Mint Julep
Fresh watermelon puts a sweet and summery spin on the classic whiskey drink.
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16
a honey whiskey mint julep garnished with a mint sprig in a silver julep cup on a green plate with a honey wand
Honey Mint Julep
Use honey whiskey to add some more sweetness and to make a lighter version of the usually strong mint julep.
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17
www.stephiecooks.com
Bourbon Slush
This frozen bourbon cocktail pulls in the flavors of black tea, orange juice and lemonade to make a tasty and refreshing libation for hot days.
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18
a bowl of chocolate chips with a chocolate mint julep
Chocolate Mint Julep
When making juleps, you can use other herbs (like basil) for a twist on the classic cocktail. This one uses the “chocolate mint” varietal of the mint plant, and it’s so so good.
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19
Savor the end of summer with a Ginger Peach Bourbon Smash. Muddle together an easy ginger simple syrup, juicy peaches, warm citrus and oaky bourbon, and toast to the last days of warm weather. (via feastandwest.com)
Ginger Peach Bourbon Smash
Smash together peaches, citrus, honey ginger simple syrup and bourbon for a delightfully fruity sipper.
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20
Blackberry Mint Juleps are the perfect combination of sweet and tart, making for a lovely American summer sipper. (via feastandwest.com)
Blackberry Mint Julep
Add fresh fruits like blackberries and strawberries to your mint julep mash-ups for more seasonal flavor.
GET THE RECIPE

Let me know in the comments which one you love!

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Mix the perfect cocktail, every time

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Comments

  1. Linda says

    What a treat! I love learning all about cocktails and this one is my new favorite cocktail. So good especially when paired with delicious appetizers

  2. Mandy Applegate says

    With so many to choose from I hardly know where to start – I’m just going to have to work my way through the list!

  3. Patrice says

    That peach mint julep is so good. I’ll have to try a few more of these. Thanks for sharing all this info and all the fun recipes.

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