Kentucky Derby 2020: Your complete guide to Kentucky Derby day drinking

2016 Kentucky Derby


On Saturday the Kentucky Derby returns for its 146th lap and across America, honest, bonneted folk will gather around the radio to sip iced tea and pull for the 50-1 long shot not for the promise of riches, but for the triumph of sport and spirit. [Record scratch]

Just kidding, it’s gonna be a shit show.

This year, the Run for the Roses moves from its traditional spot on the first Saturday of May to Labor Day, and though it will be without fans, the Kentucky Derby is still a favorite of so many. So we are here to enhance your chances of survival with all the Derby drinking essentials you need to keep you and your fellow linen suit enthusiasts happy and healthy. From barware to booze to what to make with said booze, we have you covered from gate to roses and everything in between, so enjoy yourself, enjoy the race, and remember: Bets placed after Drink No. 3 still count.

So What Will We Need?

A proper Mint Julep cup


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Your guests can use Solo Cups. They’ll be fine. You, however, will want a chalice—something shiny and silver and piled high with bourbon-y goodness—a pewter julep cup certainly fits the bill. It won’t teach you whose mutha was a mudda or that you always have to watch the rail coming down the backstretch, but it should serve notice that, come gate time, the best seat in the house is yours.

Lots of crushed ice

You don’t strain a mint julep because a glass full of crushed ice is designed to do that job for you. Run dry, however, and you’ll be sucking down soggy mint flecks all afternoon, so stockpile like the bombs just fell.

A badass muddler


Speaking of juleps, if you’re making them (which we’ll get to in a bit), you're definitely going to want a muddler to release all those good, fresh, spring-y aromas. But not just any muddler. A badass muddler. One that feels thematically appropriate and might even scare off robbers in a pinch . . . like, say, this mini baseball bat.

Mint Julep bourbon balls

So What Are You Drinking?

It’s been 12 long years since Four Roses last added a new permanent addition to their beloved bourbon trio, but that wait has finally come to an end thanks to the Small Batch Select. An expert blend of six Four Roses recipes, the 104-proof, non-chill-filtered elixir is currently only available in Kentucky, New York, California, Texas, and Georgia, making it the hottest Derby ticket this side of a Churchill Downs betting window.

Can’t be bothered to muddle the mint? Ran out of ice (we warned you!)? Don’t worry, you’re not alone, which is why plenty of Kentucky bourbon makers have taken to bottling their own ready-made julep juice. Maker’s Mark’s sexy green wax certainly scores some aesthetic brownie points, but when it’s the Derby, you gotta rep Louisville however you can, and Old Forester’s proprietary recipe offers the opportunity to do just that (and avoid pesky conundrums like what the hell to do with all that leftover mint.)

Year in, year out for over 30 years, Booker’s bourbon, hand-selected by Beam master distiller Freddie Noe, has produced some of the most anticipated releases in bourbon. The story remains the same for the lauded label’s first of 2019, the Teresa’s Batch, a liquid tribute to longtime Beam employee Teresa Wittemer that clocks in at nearly 63% ABV and boasts a palate of brown sugar, light oak, and smooth vanilla.

OK, OK. So it’s not distilled in Kentucky. Let’s just get that out of the way right now. But if you’re able to get past that, on Derby Day of all days, you’re sure to find a damn good bourbon crafted under the watchful eye of Bob Dylan himself (who co-owns Heaven’s Door, in case you hadn’t already guessed.) Skipping the charcoal-filtering process of Tennessee’s other most-famous whiskey, Heaven's Door retains its spunk and spice even despite an eight-year oak nap, so give it a try and see how it stacks up to its northern neighbors.

So What Are We Making?

Classic Mint Julep

You won’t get away without having a few of these on hand, so don’t try.

10 mint leaves

1.5 teaspoons of sugar

2.5 ounces Kentucky bourbon

Seltzer water

HORSE RACING: MAY 06 Kentucky Derby

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Muddle mint leaves and sugar in the bottom of a julep cup or rocks glass until leaves begin to break up. Add crushed ice and bourbon, top with a splash of seltzer, and stir until the glass is chilled. Garnish with a mint sprig and serve.

Oaks Lily

Don’t fret, brown-liquor agnostics—the mint julep isn’t the only de-facto cocktail of Derby Day.

1.25 ounces vodka

1 ounce sweet-and-sour mix

.25 ounce triple sec

3 ounces cranberry juice

Mix ingredients in cocktail shaker and pour over crushed ice in collins glass or stemless wine glass. Garnish with blackberry and lemon wedge and serve.

Woodford Spire

A tip of the Derby hat to Churchill Downs’ iconic spires, the Woodford Spire is as easy to make as it is easy to drink.

2 ounces lemonade

1 ounce cranberry juice

Combine ingredients in a rocks glass or julep cup filled with crushed ice. Stir, garnish with lemon twist, and serve.

Serving your own creations? If you can't settle on the most important part—a good name—perhaps this year's ponies can help:

Money Moves (15-1)

Winning Impression (49-1)

Thousand Words (9-1), another name for that guy who won't stop drinking after too much bourbon...

Kentucky Derby Previews

Michael Reaves