Getting Lucky in Kentucky: Cocktails for Derby Day

Willie’s Cup, courtesy of Jen Keyser from Geraldine's.

From cocktails that stay true to tradition to unexpected dark horses, these libations are what should be in your hand while you’re cheering on those thoroughbreds. If you haven't chosen a horse to root for yet, here's the list of horses and their owners, trainers, and earnings. 

Remember, Derby Day is Saturday, May 6, 2017. You can keep track of Derby Day on the official Kentucky Derby website through a countdown clock sponsored by Longines. 


Julep di Amari

Recipe courtesy of Benny Hurwitz, head bartender, Jack Rose Dining Saloon

Hurwitz’s was experimenting with Stinger-style cocktails around the same time he met the founders of distillers J. Rieger & Co. from Kansas City and tried their Caffé Amaro, leading him to add a coffee note to a classic Julep. “Mint brings out those cacao notes of dark coffee, almost like that classic pairing of mint chocolate chip,” he explains. “The bitterness from the amari dries it up on finish, it’s not too sweet and has some cool complexity and classic flavors.”

  • 1 ½ oz. Dickel Rye
  • ¾ oz. J. Rieger & Co. Caffé Amaro
  • ¼ oz. Amaro di Angostura
  • 6 Mint leaves
  • Mint sprig and coffee beans, for garnish

Lightly muddle 6 mint leaves and all spirits in a Julep cup or tin. Add crushed ice halfway, stir to dilute, and top the glass with more crushed ice to create that classic Julep “snow cone” appearance. Garnish with a mint sprig and a couple of coffee beans.


Willie’s Cup

Recipe courtesy of Jen Keyser, Chief of Bar Operations, Geraldine’s

This playful take on the Julep features High West Double Rye Whiskey and a house made hemp seed milk, which gives it a creamy texture.

  • 1 ½ oz. High West Double Rye Whiskey
  • 1 ½ oz. Hemp seed milk (see Note)
  • Sage sprig and bandana, for garnish

Build rye and milk in a Julep cup. Mound with crushed ice and garnish with the sage sprig and bandana.

For the hemp seed milk:

Combine 1 cup raw shelled hemp seeds, 3 cups filtered water, 4 soaked pitted dates (or 2-3 tablespoons maple syrup), ½ teaspoon natural vanilla extract, 1 tablespoon non-GMO soy or sunflower seed lecithin (optional), 1 tablespoon raw unrefined coconut oil or butter (optional), and a pinch of sea salt in a blender for 30 to 60 seconds. Sweeten to taste if desired. Strain the milk into a nut milk bag and squeeze until all drops are out. Keep in a sealed glass jar for up to two days.


101 Daily Double Two-lip Julep

Recipe courtesy of Jeremy Allen, Bar Director, MiniBar (Los Angeles)

“Since one bottle of cider makes about two Juleps, we decided it’s meant to be shared, hence naming it a ‘Daily Double’, like the track bet,” Allen points out. “It’s refreshing with hints of sweet, sour and mint, [and] best of all, it’s super simple for the home bartender to recreate (101 Julep, get it?)” If you can’t find 101 Cider House cider, feel free to substitute with any pear cider.

  • 8-10 Mint leaves
  • ¼ oz. Simple syrup
  • 1 ½ oz. Wild Turkey Rye 101
  • 2 oz. 101 Cider House Sour Pear Cider
  • Mint leaves, for garnish

Press the mint leaves in the bottom of a Collins glass. Add the simple simple and rye whiskey, add ice and stir gently. Top it with 2 ounces of cider (reserving the rest for topping off mid-drink), stir, and garnish with smacked mint leaves.


One for the Roses

Recipe courtesy of Sarah Mengoni, Bar Director, Double Take

"The lemon rose, with its vibrant aromatics, has the same function as the mint in the original cocktail – it wakes up your senses and gets them ready to drink,” Mengoni says. “The rose water speaks not only to the season, but also to the tradition of the blanket of roses that is thrown over the winning horse.”

  • 2 oz. Buffalo Trace Bourbon
  • ½ oz. Strawberry syrup (see Note)
  • 6 Drops rose water
  • Lemon peel rose, for garnish

Add first three ingredients to a cup filled with crushed ice. Stir, and garnish with the lemon peel rose.

For the strawberry syrup:
Juice enough strawberries to make 1 cup of juice. Shake or stir in 1 cup sugar until dissolved.


Mint Julep

Recipe courtesy of Michael Kaplan, The Grill on the Alley

“The traditional Mint Julep is almost too sweet, so I wanted to create a softer, yet still supple and flavorful version of the Mint Julep,” Kaplan submits. “With the infusion of an herbaceous simple syrup, a crisp, vanilla-laden Bourbon, and a playful touch on the traditional garnishes, I feel our Mint Julep will stand up well at a bar stool or a dining room table.”

  • 2 oz. Baker’s Bourbon
  • 1 oz. Herbal-infused simple syrup (see Note)
  • ½ oz. Fresh lime juice
  • Candied mint leaf and rosemary sprig, for garnish

Add the first three ingredients to a copper mug filled with crushed ice. Stir gently, and garnish with the candied mint leaf and rosemary sprig.

For the herbal-infused simple syrup:

Add 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar to a sauce pan. Bring to a simmer until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and add a handful of basil, rosemary and mint sprigs. Steep until desired flavor is reached, and then strain out solids.


Recibido Julep

Recipe courtesy of Kenneth Vanhooser, Principal Bartender, Piora

"Rum Juleps are the perfect mix of refreshing and sophisticated, as is the Old Fashioned when returning the original spirit to rum instead of today's expected bourbon,” notes Vanhooser. “The fresh watermelon juice doesn't hurt either.”

  • 1 ¾ oz. Ron Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva
  • 1 ½ oz. Watermelon juice
  • ⅓ oz.  Laphroaig Triple Wood
  • ⅓ oz. Mint syrup
  • Soda
  • Mint sprig, for garnish

Add the first four ingredients to a Julep cup over crushed ice. Top with soda, stir gently, and garnish with a mint sprig.


Lavender Julep

Recipe courtesy of Darlene Marcello, Vice President of Beverage & Procurement, Grayson Social

This heady version of the Julep gets its distinctive flavor from a syrup made with dried lavender flowers. Peppermint oil adds a bit of bracing refreshment.

  • 2 oz. Woodford Reserve Bourbon
  • 1 oz. Lavender syrup (see Note)
  • 3 Drops peppermint-infused oil
  • Mint leaves, for garnish

Fill Julep cup with crushed ice. Stir first three ingredients together and pour over ice, and garnish with the mint leaves.

For the lavender syrup:

Combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in as small saucepan. Bring to a simmer until sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and add 2 tablespoons of dried lavender flowers. Steep until desired flavor is achieved, then strain out solids.


Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website,, or on Twitter and Instagram @kmagyarics.

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