Get out your seersucker suits and put on your feathered hats: Derby season has officially started. Before heading to the track – or catching the big show on the telly – make sure you are equipped with the classic derby cocktails.
As long as there has been an official derby season, there have been official derby cocktails. Each race – from the Kentucky Derby to the Preakness to the Belmont – have their signature drinks. Some have changed over time and some remain as classic as ever.
Zach Wilks of Wilks & Wilson and renowned mixologist, says the derby’s signature cocktails are all part of the experience.
“Each drink has a significance, a story. Each one evolved over time.”
The Mint Julep
Each year more than 120,000 juleps are served over two days, during the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby. This signature drink has a long history, one that starts as far back as 1803.
Although its origins are hazy, it is mostly known as the true Southern cocktail, one of the first toddies, and usually referred to in days of yore as a vehicle for “medicine.”
Served in the classic julep cup, the silver, beaded chalice, original cups would have a copper lining to ensure the cocktail remained frozen.
It’s perfect for battling the heat of a sunny day, passing the time on the front porch and, of course, celebrating the Kentucky Derby.
Total Time: 10 mins | Makes: 1 drink
- 1 oz. Wilks & Wilson simple syrup
- 1 oz. fresh lime juice
- 2 oz. Makers Mark Kentucky bourbon
- 6-8 Fresh mint leaves
- Crushed ice
- Lime slice
- Fresh mint
Prepare in julep cups.
Sterling Silver Julep Cups were introduced in 1951 and they play an important role in Derby lore. Traditionally, the governor of Kentucky salutes the victorious Derby owner with a toast at the fashionable Winner’s Party following the race. You can purchase official cups through the Kentucky Derby website, although springing $750 maybe not be what you were expecting. Check Amazon or restaurant and bar supply sites for some “unofficial” wares.
Muddle your mint and lime juice with your simple syrup in a mixing glass.
Add bourbon and stir.
Fill your julep cup with the crushed ice.
Pour mixture over the ice.
Garnish with lime and fresh mint.
If the Mint Julep history wasn’t sketchy enough, The Belmont’s lineage is even sketchier. And it’s an ever-changing landscape, each year bringing a new “official” recipe. I say, why not stick to the original recipe?
Cocktail historian, writer and mixologist David Wondrich sheds a little light on its beginnings. The Belmont originated in 1916 by creator Hugo Ensslin, one of the earliest cocktail gurus.
The drink, says Wondrich, was recreated by Harry Craddock in 1930.
Both Ensslin and Craddock are still highly influential in cocktail culture, and two building blocks on the craft today.
Total Time: 5 mins | Makes: 1 drink
- 2 oz. Beefeater gin
- 1/2 oz. Wilks & Wilson Rapsberry Gomme
- 3/4 oz. half and half
- Lemon twist
Mix all ingredients and shake vigorously.
Pour into a martini glass and garnish with your lemon twist.
The Black-Eyed Susan
The Black-Eyed Susan was created in 1956 as the signature cocktail of The Preakness as a competitor for The Kentucky Derby’s Mint Julep.
Created specifically for the Preakness’ 100th anniversary celebration, this almost 60-year-old cocktail has gone through many changes over the years.
Like the Belmont, the original recipe is the prefect way to keep your Triple Crown cocktails true-to-form.
Total Time: 10 mins | Makes: 1 drink
- 1.25 oz. Belvedere vodka
- .25 oz. St. Germaine
- 1 oz. lemon juice
- 6 dashes Angustura bitters
- A bar spoon full blackberry preserves
- Fresh sage or mint leaf
Mix all ingredients– except ice – in a glass and shake vigorously.
Pour into a highball glass over ice.
Garnish with sage or mint.
Twinkle VanWinkle has more than 20 years of professional cooking under her apron strings, feeding thousands of friends, family and other folks. She baked apple pies for the “Oprah Winfrey Show” and has appeared on Food Network’s “The Best Of…” Along with producing dynamic lifestyle content for LIN Media, she is a mother, urban gardener, chef, musician and social media fanatic.