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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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 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.