Run for the Bourbon: What to Drink on Kentucky Derby Day

A classic cocktail, plus a variation, for a festive day at the races—from the comfort of your own home

Also known as the Run for the Roses, the Kentucky Derby is the most exciting two minutes in sports and is also the official start of the summer social season. But you don’t have to be in Kentucky to enjoy the race. It’s easy to show some southern hospitality — invite some friends over, mix up a batch or two of Mint Juleps, serve some cheesy biscuits and turn on the big screen. For a bit of Churchill Downs grandstand color, put on a fancy hat and you’re off to the races with true Southern style!

Here's a recipe for the traditional Kentucky drink — made with bourbon, of course.

Mint Juleps
Serves 4

2 ounces mint infused simple syrup
8 ounces Kentucky bourbon
3 cups crushed ice
4 ounces seltzer
Mint leaves for garnish

Fill julep glasses with crushed ice. Combine simple syrup and bourbon in a cocktail shaker filled half way with crushed ice. Strain mixture into glasses, top with seltzer, garnish with mint sprig and serve.

Mint-Infused Simple Syrup
Makes scant 1 cup

1 cup water
1 cup superfine sugar
1 cup mint leaves, washed

Combine water and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves and the liquid becomes clear, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add mint leaves. Let stand for 15-30 minutes. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Strain the syrup and discard the mint leaves. The syrup will keep in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

To serve this drink, tried and true Southern belles call for an ice-frosted silver cup, in either sterling or coin silver, finished in a simple design called a "mint julep cup." When I find one at antique sales, I love to add to my collection. If you don't have one, there’s no pressure—just use what you have, as the real prize lies in the glass!

Here's a zesty and extra sweet version of the traditional julep for a true touch of the South.

Peach Juleps
Serves 4

2 ounces peach and mint infused simple syrup
8 ounces Kentucky bourbon
3 cups crushed ice
4 ounces seltzer
Mint leaves for garnish

Fill julep glasses with crushed ice. Combine simple syrup and and bourbon a cocktail shaker filled half-way with ice. Strain into glasses. Top with seltzer, garnish with mint sprig and serve!

Peach and Mint Infused Simple Syrup

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cup mint leaves, washed
2 fresh peaches, sliced

Combine water and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves and the liquid becomes clear, about 5 minutes. Add peaches and reduce heat to simmer, simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat add in mint, let stand for 15-30 minutes. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Strain the syrup and discard the peaches and mint leaves. The syrup will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

 

Colleen Mullaney is a lifestyle expert, author of several entertaining books, and a mother of three. She can be found at Colleenmullaney.com.

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