Bless Your Heart, New York: You Still Can’t Make a Mint Julep

We wrote to New York once already, back when we first started this blog, about their difficulty grasping the essence of a cocktail we hold most dear. Given the Derby season, and the city’s seeming inability to follow our instructions, we have decided to issue a reminder. So New York, consider this your second notice. Bless your heart, but you still don’t know how to make a mint julep.

Dear New York,

I have a bone to pick with you. Lately I’ve noticed a trend in what one might term “nightlife locales.” More and more often, I’ve come across cocktail menus with artisan offerings featuring my favorite Kentucky spirit, that delicious elixir known as bourbon. Now I’m all for experimentation, and my homesickness is soothed by the familiar notes of homespun liquor in a cosmopolitan drink (not a Cosmopolitan drink — that would be gross). And in my travels, I have on occasion even come across a familiar old friend, one with whom I’ve spent many a May afternoon: my dear mint julep. I’m always thrilled to see good ole minty on a menu, like catching sight of an old friend across a crowded room full of anonymous hipsters. And so, brimming with enthusiasm, I order up an ice cold julep. I eagerly await my cocktail, dreaming of humid summer nights at the track and bright sunshiney barbecues. It’s been too long. I can’t wait to be reunited!

And then my drink arrives.

There are many things New York does well: bagels, pizza, incredibly cheap Chinese food. But by and large, this city’s attempts at the mint julep, a gold standard among cocktails, are, well, pathetic. Bless your heart, New York, but you just are not getting this right. Here are some signs that you may be woefully off track.

bourbon, mint-juleps, kentucy, derby, zelda-and-scout, jennifer-harlan, jen-harlan

Juleps done right, at my 2013 Derby party in Brooklyn

  1. If your julep contains no ice.

Early Times, the long-time official julep sponsor of the Kentucky Derby (usurped this year by Old Forester), calls for a julep to start with a heaping cup of crushed ice, which is then rapidly stirred until the glass is frosted. Like the touch of a Disney princess, the creation of a mint julep should cloak the vessel in the sheen of a winter wonderland, with baby icebergs floating amid the leaves of mint. Lukewarm is an adjective that should never be applied to this drink.

  1. If your julep contains lime.

I want to tell you a story. Her first Derby in New York, Scout was feeling homesick and set off in search of some appropriate festivities. Her roommate worked at a bar that was hosting a Derby Party, so Scout decided to join her. On approaching the bar, she saw two large vats of pre-mixed drinks: one labeled Mint Juleps and the other Mojitos. She chose the julep. At first sip, she could tell that something was amiss. She looked down and discovered a green slice of lime floating in her purported julep. Shocked, confused, and mildly outraged, she concluded that the bartender must have misheard her or mixed up the drinks, so she asked for a sip of her friend’s cocktail to verify the mistake. Turns out, she had the same thing. The vats, despite their signs, were identical.

A mint julep is not a mojito. Lime, lemon, or fruit of any kind has no place in your glass. If you want fruit with your bourbon, order a Manhattan. Otherwise, unless it’s green and leafy, it stays in the fridge. You have been warned.

  1. If your julep contains any alcohol other than straight Kentucky bourbon.

There are some who claim that bourbon manufactured in the state of New York is legitimate bourbon. I am not one of those people. And woe be the mixologist who tries to spice things up with a little rye or, god forbid, some non-brown liquor (again, people, this is not a mojito!). The mint julep is a classic, a king among cocktails, a true American beverage. Take your experimentation elsewhere.

Love,

Zelda

mabel's-smokehouse, williamsburg, brooklyn, mint-julep, zelda-and-scout, jennifer-harlan, jen-harlan

A Mable’s Smokehouse feast

Now there are a few spots in New York that have managed to get the julep right. My personal favorite is Mable’s in Williamsburg (to be fair, one of the owners is a Louisvillian, which gives them a slight advantage). Their juleps are ice cold, with a well-tuned balance of bourbon and simple syrup, and a fresh mint garnish adding a splash of color. They pair fantastically with the pulled pork and the macaroni and cheese, both equally delicious.

If, however, you’re more the do-it-yourself type, here is my favorite, foolproof julep recipe. A guaranteed hit at Derby parties, happy hours, or Saturday evenings in general. This is a serious beverage, and as such requires some overnight prep, but the actual assembly process could not be easier and will get you a delicious, crowd-pleasing libation every time.

The night (or at least several hours) before you plan on serving your juleps, make your simple syrup. Boil one part water/one part sugar together for five minutes. (I usually start with two cups of each, and then go from there.) If you can, I recommend using cane sugar, like Trader Joe’s sells. It gives the julep an extra kick of brown sugar flavor, with notes of pecan pie. But plain old white sugar will do the trick as well.

Set the mixture aside to cool. Once it’s no longer hot to the touch, pour it into an easily refrigeratable (and preferably pour-friendly) container along with 8-12 sprigs of fresh mint. Let sit overnight, or for at least 8 hours.

When you’re ready to make your juleps, remove the mint from the syrup. Fill your glasses with crushed ice, and pour in the syrup and bourbon until full. I usually go for a three-fourths bourbon/one-fourth syrup ratio, but you can adjust to taste. Stir to blend (and to get that glass nice and frosty). Garnish with a sprig of mint and enjoy!

[A note on bourbon: As I said before, unless it hails from the Bluegrass State, I don’t consider it bourbon. My personal julep favorites are Eagle Rare and Bulleit, both very drinkable and relatively affordable.]

bourbon, mint-juleps, zelda-and-scout, jennifer-harlan, jen-harlan

Derby Party, Paris style, 2013

Got a bone to pick with dear New York? Something got you face-palming and wringing your hands? Shoot us an email at zeldaandscout@gmail.com and let us know about your greatest bless-your-heart moments.

Chocolate, Pecan, Bourbony Goodness

The more time I spend in the Northeast, the more I find myself acting as an informal (and sometimes formal) ambassador for my beloved Derby City. Because let me tell you, that little race that New Yorkers are quick to write off as a silly Southern fling is, in fact, a pretty big f-ing deal. Come the first Saturday of May, even the most surly Southerners will bust out their florals and plaid. The hats are elaborate, the seersuckers are freshly pressed, and shoulders still pasty from a long winter peek out from beneath the straps of cheery sundresses. Then, there’s the food. A 2012 infographic by Derby LLC reported that 800 pounds of bourbon balls and 1,892 sheets of Derby Pie are consumed during the festivities, along with 120,000 mint juleps and 7,800 liters of bourbon. That’s just the official count, never mind the thousands of house parties and private gatherings that spring up all over the city, providing an outlet for those who want to get into the Derby spirit without the company of the 200,000 other spectators packed into Churchill Downs.

Hunter S. Thompson may have called the Kentucky Derby “decadent and depraved,” but for me the pageantry and spectacle are all part of what makes Louisville special — an underappreciated spot of sunshine in the land between the coasts. So when May rolls around and I find myself spending yet another Derby far from the Bluegrass, I like to make myself a little slice of home: a delicious, decadent concoction known (unofficially, and in hushed tones, per copyright restrictions) as Derby Pie.

Gooey and sweet, with a hint of bourbon cutting through the thick chocolate and oh-so-Southern pecans, it tastes like the call to the post, the glisten of the jockeys’ silks, and the gleeful camaraderie of an entire city decked out in its finest and dedicated to a good time. I’ve made this pie in Brooklyn, in Providence, and in Paris (France, not Kentucky), and it never fails to take me home. Someday I will get back and celebrate with my people, who need no explanations for the mayhem because they’re as eagerly complicit in the madness as I am. But in the meantime, come May 2nd, I will don a requisite sundress and hat, pull up ESPN, and force my New York friends to join in with the crowd as we sing one song for my old Kentucky home, far, far away.

Chocolate Pecan Bourbon Pie (As of 1968, only Kern’s Kitchen is officially allowed to call it Derby Pie.)

Ingredients

1 cup granulated sugar

4 tablespoons melted butter

3 eggs, slightly beaten

¾ cups light corn syrup

¼ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons Kentucky Bourbon (IMPORTANT NOTE: As previously explained in our note to dear New York re: mint juleps, in our books, there is no other acceptable kind.)

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla

½ cup chopped pecans

½ cup semisweet chocolate chips (Or, in my case, more like 1 ½ cups—I’m a firm believer in never skimping on the chocolate.)

1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell (I recommend Pillsbury if you’re lazy or have other pressing tasks — i.e. bourbon drinking — to attend to, but if you’re feeling really ambitious, you can make your own. This is a good primer.)

Via Post- Magazine

Me, in cartoon pie eating form (Via Post- Magazine)

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375°.

In a mixing bowl, cream together sugar and butter.

Add eggs, corn syrup, salt, bourbon, and vanilla. Mix on low speed with a mixer (or with moderate enthusiasm by hand) until blended.

Spread pecans and chocolate chips in the bottom of the prepared pie shell.

Pour filling over nuts and chocolate chips.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until set.

Serve in the sunshine, washed down with an ice-cold mint julep. (Don’t know how to make one? Check back tomorrow: We’ve got you covered.)

Party Like It’s 1875!

Not all of us have the luxury of being in our old Kentucky home for the Derby. We, both Zelda and Scout, are going to be in the city that never sleeps this year. But even though we may be far from Southern climes, New York is never one to pass up a good time. We’ve curated a lovely list of the best places to celebrate Derby right here in NYC. So dust off your widest brim hat and your seersucker suit, and celebrate with the best the city has to offer.

Brooklyn Derby (Greenwood Park): A Z&S favorite, first featured in our September round-up for their video series on our hometown. The gang fully subscribes to the motto “Live every day like the first Saturday in May,” but their annual party is when they realize their full potential. The outdoor event includes a bluegrass and jazz concert (this year featuring The DeLorean Sisters, along with Dandy Wellington and His Band), a hat parade, dancing, drinking, and general revelry. The bar is open from 4:00 until 8:00 p.m., when it turns back into a (cash) pumpkin, so get there early and stay until it runs dry. brooklynderby.com

Last Year's Julep's at Mable's (Via SI.com)

Last Year’s Juleps at Mable’s (Via SI.com)

Mable’s: A perennial Zelda & Scout favorite, this joint is co-owned by a Louisville gal, so you know they do Derby right. We’re talking pie, races all day (contrary to popular belief, the Derby is not just a single two-minute race but an all-day event), and even some friendly wagering. The food is fantastic, the vibe is contagiously festive, and, most important of all, they know how to make a damn fine mint julep. We enjoy them all year round, but especially that first weekend in May, they get our highest rating: four glasses raised way up. mablessmokehouse.com

A Classy Time at Mad46 (via The NY Know)

A Classy Time at mad46 (via The NY Know)

mad46: For the classiest Derby observer, this rooftop lounge at the Roosevelt Hotel is the spot. Named CBS New York’s Number One Derby Party for the past three years, the annual fete is sponsored by Woodford Reserve — favorite bourbon of corporate executives and discerning grand dames, which really tells you everything you need to know about the flavor of this event. Doors open at 3:30 and reservations are strongly recommended; heathens need not apply. And you should definitely dress to impress: The evening includes a Best Dressed contest, and prizes include a free night at the hotel (for the Most Polished Gentleman) and bottle service for six (for the Most Derby Chic Lady). mad46.com 

Empty here, but Brickyard is sure to be packed on Derby Day (via Brickyard NYC)

Empty here, but Brickyard is sure to be packed on Derby Day (via Brickyard NYC)

Brickyard: This Hell’s Kitchen gastropub and sports bar is the best place in Midtown to watch the big race. They’re serving up $5 dollar mint juleps all day, as well as a healthy amount of Kentucky cuisine, including the Appalachian delicacy known as burgoo (a stew traditionally made with whatever meat is on hand — more on that someday) and, of course, cornbread. There’s a gift card for whoever is rocking the best head topper, and if you’re not bourbon inclined (note: now is a good time to convert), they’ve got 24 craft beers on tap. Reservations recommended. brickyardnyc.com 

Derby at The Bell House (Via Flickr)

Derby at The Bell House (Via Flickr)

The Bell House: Gowanus is where it’s at, y’all, especially if you’re looking for a kick ass Derby Party. This year, The Bell House is hosting “The 141st Run for the Roses: The Honorary Homer Fink Kentucky Derby Gala.” It has everything you could possibly want in a Derby day: live music, Bulleit juleps, a hat contest, a group sing-a-long of “My Old Kentucky Home,” and of course the viewing of the race. For just ten dollars general admission, it can all be yours! Buy your tickets today. thebellhouseny.com 

Your friendly neighborhood Kentuckian’s apartment. The best option of all, and the only way to be sure you’re getting the bona fide experience. Damn straight.

Just Folks: Louisvillians on Derby

So we’re just over halfway through our make-shift Derby Festival here on Zelda & Scout, and as a blog about displacement and diaspora, we wanted to focus a couple of days on how to celebrate Derby when you’re far away from Churchill Downs (as we so often are…sigh).

The stars aren’t always in alignment for us: Not every year brings a big, flowery party to attend. Scout had to work last year and thus was only able to help Zelda with preparations in the morning (no worries though — many floral-dressed, fascinator-donning selfies were taken to commemorate our short-lived celebration). We’ve both had Derby’s in foreign countries (Zelda had two in France; Scout had one in the Czech Republic). We both had thrown together dorm room celebrations, huddled over a laptop. Scout spent her first two college Derby Days nursing post-Spring Fest hangovers. Zelda spent her sophomore one in a recording booth with her a cappella group.

Scout and Zelda at Derby celebrations gone by

Scout and Zelda at Derby celebrations gone by

But wherever we are, we always find a way to sit down and remember our old Kentucky home for at least a few minutes. There are a lot of ways to celebrate, and we’re of the opinion that there is no wrong way to get your Derby on (obviously we’d prefer the all out party with juleps and hats and bluegrass music, but we understand that’s not a possibility for everyone).

So we decided to turn to our displaced Louisville brethren to see how they fête the special day. Our super formal and official survey revealed a few things.

Some people go home, and that seems to be the pipe dream for those who do not. Everyone is agreed: Nothing matches the experience of actually being beneath the Twin Spires with 200,000 of your peeps. One Louisville gal’s parents even go so far as to leave her a voicemail every year of the crowd singing “My Old Kentucky Home,” so she feels like part of the day, even when she finds herself at work.

But that’s not to say being away from the Bluegrass stops people from partying their faces off. Some people (us included) throw their own shindigs, and get their kicks from showing them Yankees how it’s done.

Brother Jimmy's, awaiting Derby spectators

Brother Jimmy’s, awaiting Derby spectators

Others get their party on at various New York establishments. We’ve compiled our own guide to NYC Derby Fests, coming your way tomorrow, but our fellow Louisvillians’ favorites range from the classy (Union League Club, very Lilly Pulitzer and traditional) to the more down home (favorites include Brother Jimmy’s on the Upper West Side, Distilled in Tribeca, and the Red Rooster in Harlem).

Louisvillians had a few other tips for making the most of Derby day. One suggested New York stalwart Goorin Brothers for hats. Another suggested Forever 21, if you’re in need of a quick and affordable millinery fix. And everyone seems to agree that watching Brooklyn hipsters try mint juleps for the first time, and then proceed to make faces and complain about how they “thought it would be like a mojito,” is highly entertaining if you approach it with a heaping tablespoon of irony (this is Brooklyn, after all).

Near or far, whether alone with our laptops and bottle of Bulleit or surrounded by friends, we Kentuckians are a proud bunch. Sometimes certain characters from our dear state make us cringe, some days the jokes about kissin’ cousins or fried chicken get old, but in May there’s no place we’d rather call home than the Bluegrass State. And nobody, not one of us, can sing “My Old Kentucky Home” without a tear coming to his or her eye. Cheers to that.

Party Like a Louisvillian: The Ultimate Derby Party Hosting Guide

The best way to celebrate Derby is in Louisville itself. However, if like me you find yourself far from the homestead come Derby Day, the second best thing is to throw a big, fabulous shindig yourself and show them Yankees (or Californians or Parisians or whatever) how it’s done.

bourbon, mint-juleps, zelda-and-scout, jennifer-harlan, jen-harlan

Celebrating Derby Paris-style, May 2013

The last time I was home for Derby was in high school, so the past seven years have seen all manner of celebrations, some more elaborate than others. I’ve watched the race on a laptop in my dorm room or sitting on the floor outside a recording booth. I’ve watched it huddled in the corner of a Paris apartment while everyone else did tequila shots. But for the past four years, I’ve thrown a party, bringing the Twin Spires to me since I can’t get to them. These are my tips, gleaned from years of experience in multiple states (and countries) as I spread the Derby love and turned my various apartments into corners of the Bluegrass, at least for that first magical Saturday in May.

Decor

First things first, you need to set the mood. Ideally, a Derby party should be thrown outside, for maximum sunshine and the closest approximation of the Churchill Downs experience. But should rain or lack of yard space keep you indoors, there are still easy ways to liven up your living space in Derby spirit.

No party would be complete without roses, the official flower of Derby. You can splurge for the real deal if you’re feeling fancy, or make your own if you’d rather spend your hard-earned cash on more important things. Namely bourbon.

These jockey silks printouts are cute and easy. If you print extras and your guests are crafty, you can even have them decorate their own. (I suggest using cardstock if you can, so they’ll hold up better.)

Derby for me is the quintessence of spring, so anything bright and blooming will suit the occasion. A pennant banner is easy and whimsical, and can totally be used even post-party. And if you’re feeling really lazy, grab some bright balloons, stick some flowers in some mason jars, and you are all set.

Soundtrack

Via WFPK

Via WFPK

To fully set the mood, you need some tunes. Luckily for you, we’ve done your homework already with our April playlist.

In need of more Derby-tastic music? For a classic feel, you can go old school with Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, or Del McCoury. For a more modern twist, try The Avett Brothers, Houndmouth, or Old Crow Medicine Show. I’m also a big fan of the whole Pickin’ On “Bluegrass Tribute to The Shins” album, for a little something unexpected, or Lake Street Dive, for a retro feel.

Food

No Southern occasion is complete without food, and lots of it. Derby in particular is a long haul — a marathon of a day — and you are going to need sustenance. My Derby party menu is all about Kentucky favorites, made bite-sized for your snacking pleasure.

First, nothing says Kentucky like Fried Chicken, but you don’t want to spend all day over a vat of hot oil (cue the Visigoths jokes), so go oven fried instead.

Next up, a Kentucky delicacy so simple and delicious, and yet completely unknown outside the Bluegrass State. Meet benedictine. Serve with crackers or in tea sandwich form because you’re classy as shit.

Another Louisville staple that is so goddamn delicious I do not understand how it has yet to sweep the nation — it’s the Hot Brown, miniature size! (Pro tip: If, like the average human, you do not have a pastry bag, you can make your own by snipping the corner off a large ziploc bag.)

And of course, you can’t forget about dessert! And really, on Derby, there is only one option: Chocolate Pecan Bourbon Pie. I like to make mine mini-size for parties; just use a rocks glass to cut small circles of pie crust, and then use them to line the cups of a muffin tin. Presto, baby pies! Check back Wednesday for my recipe.

Drink

Now to the serious business. In order to truly celebrate Derby, you must have drinks. Namely, bourbon. Straight up, on the rocks, with water, or as a julep — pick your method, but the poison must be whiskey.

Check out Scout’s Derby Cocktail Guide for some delicious ways to get bourbon in your belly, and even a few non-bourbon options (sacrilege, we know, but variety is the spice of life, yes?).

Activities

Via Etsy

Via Etsy

Between the eating, the drinking, and the watching of the actual race, you’ve got yourself a party right there. But should you find yourself in need of activities (it is a long day, after all, and the fastest two minutes in sports leaves several hours to be filled with other pastimes), here are some ideas.

  • Pin the jockey on the race horse.
  • Best-dressed (and by dressed, we mean hatted) contest.
  • Cornhole, official pastime of the bros of the South.
  • Horseshoes, official pastime of the old bros of the South.
  • Derby-themed photo booth (you can purchase prop sets, or make your own).
  • Sing-along of “My Old Kentucky Home.”
  • Have jars set up for every horse running in this year’s race, and a hat for bets. People can place a dollar in the hat and their name in a jar for every horse they want to bet on (it helps to have a guide handy, should the eminent Jill Byrne not be present at your Derby celebration). The pot gets split among the folks who picked the winning horse. Or you can simplify matters by writing the numbers 1-26 on slips of paper and having people draw at random; then, whichever horse wins gets the whole kit(ty) and caboodle.

And then, at 6:23 p.m., watch the race. Whether you’re there in person, surrounded by friends, or alone with your laptop, for those two minutes, the old Kentucky home doesn’t seem so far away.

Our Talent Really Lies in Drinking: A Derby Cocktail Guide

Derby time, as you surely know already, is not complete without a little alcohol-induced depravity (for those of age, of course). So as resident Chief of Appropriate Inebriation for Zelda & Scout, I am here to provide you with some cocktails with which to make your Derby celebration (wherever it may be) properly lubricated.

Now what, you may ask, makes a drink especially befitting a Derby celebration? One thing, and one thing only: bourbon. The amber liquid goodness that comes (almost) solely from the great state of Kentucky is really the only liquor that should be consumed on the first Saturday in May (however, I do have a little something for you fans of clear liquor as well…if you must).

Let us begin.

The Mint Julep (via BunkyCooks)

The Mint Julep (via BunkyCooks)

Mint Julep: The official cocktail of the Kentucky Derby is the one and only Mint Julep, but if you’ve made it this far on Zelda and Scout, we’re going to assume you already know that. A combination of bourbon, simple syrup, and mint, this cocktail may be an acquired taste for some, but it is an absolute requirement on race day. The official bourbon of the Churchill Downs Mint Julep is Old Forester (they unseated long-standing sponsor Early Times, which doesn’t meet all the requirements to actually be a bourbon — gasp! — this year); however, we prefer Woodford Reserve or Maker’s Mark. Check out Zelda’s personal recipe here, and serve in pewter cups over crushed ice for the most official look. If you’re really adventurous, you can also try this moonshine julep (aka the drink of my people).

The Man o'War (via Liquor.com)

The Man o’War (via Liquor.com)

Man o’War: Named after the famous Kentucky-bred racehorse (though he didn’t win the Derby), the Man o’War cocktail is a variant on the Manhattan, but better. Take 2 oz bourbon (our choice here: Buffalo Trace), 1 oz orange curaçao or triple sec, 1/2 oz sweet vermouth, and 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice, and combine in a shaker filled with ice. Shake, strain, and serve in a cocktail glass. Garnish with a citrus twist and a brandied cherry (or no cherry if you’re me, because cherries are gross).

The Old Fashioned (Via Punch)

The Old Fashioned (Via Punch)

Old Fashioned: A classic cocktail, the old fashioned combines bourbon, bitters and sugar. For best results, muddle a brown sugar cube, 1/2 tsp of white sugar, a splash of water, and four dashes of bitters in a rocks glass. Add 2 oz of bourbon (we’re suggesting Old Forester here, like they use at our hometown bar St. Charles Exchange during happy hour), and one or two large ice cubes. Garnish with lemon and orange peel. Still confused? Here’s a handy video.

The Kentucky Mule (via The Chicago Tribune)

The Kentucky Mule (via The Chicago Tribune)

Kentucky Mule: A variant of the much-loved Moscow Mule, the Kentucky version replaces Russian vodka with Kentucky bourbon, obviously. My cocktail of choice at our favorite hometown brunch spot The Silver Dollar, this keeps everything I love about the Moscow Mule (lime, ginger beer) and gets rid of everything I don’t (vodka). Fill your chosen cup (a rocks glass will work, but if you want to be proper, copper mule mugs are the way to go) with ice. Add 1-2 oz of bourbon (I suggest you go with Bulleit here: It’s affordable and tasty, but you won’t feel too bad about flooding it with ginger beer). Pour in ginger beer until cup is nearly full. Squeeze in the juice of one lime and garnish with mint.

The Classic (via Andy Post)

The Classic (via Andy Post)

Bourbon: Now if you’re a true lover of our home state liquor, you know that there are really only two ways to drink bourbon: on the rocks or neat. Zelda and I both prefer ours on the rocks, and if you’re going to drink it this way, don’t skimp. Go with Angel’s Envy, Blanton’s, Basil Hayden, or Van Winkle (we’re talking 10 or 12 year here….though if you’re a wizard and somehow got your hands on some 23 year, more power to you, and are you in the market for a new best friend?). Glass + bourbon = happiness.

These are the Derby classics, tried and true and 100% Kentuckian approved. But if you simply must avoid brown liquor and you’re more of a vodka-cranberry kinda person, fear not! Derby is for all, and I’ve got something for you too.

The Lily (via Talk of Tomatoes)

The Lily (via Talk of Tomatoes)

The Oaks Lily: The official drink of The Kentucky Oaks, the Lily is a sweet fruity drink made with vodka (Grey Goose, if we’re being official, but we’re pretty sure Tito’s works just as well, unless you’re my grandmother, and then the only vodka worth drinking is Stoli). Combine 1 1/4 oz. vodka, 1 oz sweet and sour mix, 1/4 oz triple sec, and 3 oz of cranberry juice. Serve over crushed ice in a rocks glass (or the official Lily glass), and garnish with a blackberry and a lemon wedge.

Too lazy to mix yourself up a Lily? You can always go with the old Southern standard: Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka and lemonade, best served shaken with ice in a Mason jar.

And there you have it! You’re now armed for inebriation six ways to Saturday. Enjoy two of Kentucky’s greatest gifts — good bourbon and good horses — and please, drink responsibly y’all.

April Playlist: For Our Old Kentucky Home

No party is complete without an appropriate soundtrack. These are the songs that get us in the mood all Derby season long. From bluegrass and country classics to tunes with a modern twist (Didn’t know there were rap songs about Kentucky? You are welcome.). Whether they’re Kentucky specific or just oozing Southern charm, each track on this list pairs perfectly with sunshine, horses, and an ice cold mint julep.

Louisville, K-Y: Ella Fitzgerald – We’ll forgive Ella the mispronunciation of our fair city’s name because we love this one so much. When our seat backs and tray tables are in the upright and locked position, and the plane is pointed south, this is the song that accompanies us home.

Rye Whiskey: Punch Brothers – Every word in this song is true, and every word in this song could be applied to the official liquor of the Derby (and of our lives): bourbon.

Long Time Gone: Dixie Chicks – No Derby playlist would be complete without a song from these gals, who provided the soundtrack to our childhoods and embody all of our favorite things about the South. This one is down home and sassy, unafraid to put its money where its mouth is. (Bonus factoid: This was the first song we ever sang together at Nerdeoke. Truth.)

Cumberland Gap: Old Crow Medicine Show – Nothing like a little O.C.M.S. to get us in the Kentucky mood. This one’s got that true bluegrass fiddle sound, sure to have you bouncing along (better watch that julep for spillage…).

Goin’ To The Party: Alabama Shakes – There are some who call Derby a horse race. There are some who call it a festival. There are some who call it a traffic jam and a nuisance. The truth? It is a party, and a damn fine one, as decadent and depraved as it gets.

Big Chance: Patty Loveless – Pikeville, KY, native and distant relative of one of our favorite GRITS, Loretta Lynn, Patty knows her way around a honky tonk (and, we’d be willing to bet, a racetrack). Three juleps in, and we’re starting to reminisce about old loves gone by — human, equine, or otherwise.

Prettiest Tree On the Mountain: Ben Sollee – Slow and sweet, this song takes us back to sun-dappled walks (or drives) through the rolling hills of the Bluegrass State, or at least through Cherokee Park. Home sweet home.

I Still Want A Little More: The Milk Carton Kids – More bourbon. More pie. More hours of sunshine. More horses galloping around the track. We want it all.

That’s How I Got to Memphis: The Avett Brothers – An ode to the town Zelda called home before decamping to the Ville. An oldie and goodie from 1970, covered here by our perpetual favorites, those North Carolina brothers called Avett.

New Slang: Pickin’ On Series – Discovered in one of our favorite Bushwick coffee shops, after which Zelda immediately went home and downloaded the whole album. Goddamn delightful.

My Kentucky Home (feat. Demi & Goodfella Child): KD – Kentucky is not always bluegrass and banjos. Sometimes, Kentucky is roll down your windows, turn the bass up, blast the neighborhood rap songs. Like this one.

I Won’t Grow Up: Audra Mae & The Almighty Sound – This one’s for the girls with the ziploc bags of vodka duct taped to their thighs and the pocket shots in their bras. We feel you. We’ve been you (although we were always more bourbon gals ourselves). Carry on.

Got A Lotta Rhythm In My Soul: Patsy Cline – Patsy is brimming with Derby spirit in this song, telling us to “live it up and paint the town.” We don’t intend to disobey her.

Catfish Blues: B.B. King – While B.B. King is more associated with the slightly deeper South (think banks of the Mississippi, not Ohio), the rhythm of this bluesy take fits right in with our bluegrass party.

Say It: Houndmouth – We spent a good hour dithering over which song from our favorite hometown quartet to include on this playlist. This track off their newest album won for its gambling references (a staple of Derby day), and its gung-ho enthusiasm. Because anything worth doing is worth doing with gusto, Derby included.

Sawing On The Strings: Alison Krauss – Alison was one of Scout’s first introductions to bluegrass, and her tale of a little fiddle player that could is sure to make you smile.

The Bluegrass Country: The Del McCoury Band – The banjo pickin’ and fiddle sawin’ in this one have us lonesome for the bluegrass country too. Who are we kidding — we’re always nostalgic for that bluegrass home of ours, most especially during Derby time.

My Old Kentucky Home: Raison D’Etre – No Derby celebration is complete without a ceremonial singing of this tune, the official song of the state of Kentucky. So raise your julep glass high, put your hand over your heart, and sing this one for our old Kentucky home far away. Happy Derby to all, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

As always, you can listen along here, or we’re on YouTube and Spotify.