Cocktail & Other Recipes Occasion Spring

20 Cocktails to Make for the Kentucky Derby

The race might be short, but these drinks will keep the fun going all day long.

Kentucky Mule served in a copper mug and topped with a mint sprig garnish, served on a straw mat / Tim Nusog

The Kentucky Derby race is often called “the most exciting two minutes in sports,” but celebrations can start days in advance and end long after the last horse crosses the finish line. Although the Mint Julep is the classic choice for a day at the races, the occasion lends itself to a range of drinks, from Julep riffs to bourbon-forward sippers and easy day-drinking options. Saddle up and and try these 20 cocktails that are perfect for Derby Day.

  • Mint Julep

    Mint Julep / Tim Nusog 

    Let’s start with that most traditional of Derby cocktails. This refreshing drink—made with bourbon, fresh mint, simple syrup, an optional dash of bitters, and lots of crushed ice—is easy to have in hand while watching the race and throughout the day. Make sure to stir your mixture until the cup is frosty for optimal results.

    Get the recipe.

  • Brown Derby

    Brown Derby cocktail in high-stemmed coupe glass, with a head of foam and orange twist, on a light colored background / Tim Nusog

    Though its name actually nods to a 1930s-era diner, its bourbon backbone makes the Brown Derby a great addition to any Derby Day spread. The Whiskey Sour-like cocktail also includes fresh grapefruit juice and honey syrup.

    Get the recipe.

  • Kentucky Maid

    Kentucky Maid cocktail / Tim Nusog

    This easy-drinking modern classic from bartender Sam Ross combines bourbon with mint, cucumber, and simple syrup. It’s similar to a Mint Julep, but arguably even more refreshing.

    Get the recipe.

  • Preakness

    Preakness cocktail / Tim Nusog

    Different horse race, still a great cocktail. The Preakness is a twist on a classic Manhattan that’s made with the usual suspects: whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters. But the real twist comes from the addition of Benedictine, which adds an unexpectedly herbaceous and complex flavor to the spirit-forward drink. 

    Get the recipe.

    Continue to 5 of 20 below.
  • Bourbon Rickey

    Bourbon Rickey cocktail / Tim Nusog

    Although it has been usurped in popularity by the Gin Rickey, this original version of the Rickey was reportedly created in the late 19th century at the request of lobbyist Joe Rickey, who preferred his drinks on the tart side. The simple combination of bourbon, lime juice, and sparkling water can be prepared right in the glass.

    Get the recipe.

  • Jockey Club

    Jockey Club cocktail / Tim Nusog

    This close cousin of a Manhattan will elevate even the most casual race-viewing parties. The sophisticated and spirit-forward sipper mixes bourbon, sweet vermouth, and maraschino liqueur.

    Get the recipe.

  • Kentucky Buck

    Kentucky Buck cocktail / Tim Nusog

    This fruity take on the Buck from bar pro Erick Castro combines bourbon with strawberries, lemon juice, rich ginger syrup, Angostura bitters, and club soda. You can also use ginger beer instead of syrup to simply the drink’s preparation.

    Get the recipe.

  • Oaks Lily

    Oaks Lily / Tim Nusog

    For fans of the Oaks Derby (Kentucky’s other big race), this light and refreshing vodka drink is just the ticket. Named for the stargazer lilies that are placed on the race’s winning filly, the combination of vodka, cranberry and lemon juices, orange liqueur, and simple syrup subtly nods to the Cosmopolitan.

    Get the recipe.

    Continue to 9 of 20 below.
  • Kentucky Mule

    Kentucky Mule cocktail / Tim Nusog 

    A classic Moscow Mule—made with vodka, lime juice, and ginger beer—is exceedingly easy to make and drink. This Derby-friendly rendition puts bourbon front and center.

    Get the recipe.

  • Peach Beer Julep

    Peach Beer Julep / Tim Nusog

    Bar pro Lynnette Marerro was inspired by the stone-fruit notes of India Pale Ales to pair an IPA syrup with muddled peaches in this Julep riff. The refreshing drink also features the classic bourbon and mint.

    Get the recipe.

  • Horse’s Neck

    Horse's Neck cocktail / Tim Nusog 

    Once just a glass of non-alcoholic ginger ale, the Horse’s Neck has come a long way since its late 19th-century beginnings. The two-ingredient drink is still easy to make: Just pour bourbon, brandy, or American rye whiskey over ice and top with ginger ale and a lemon peel. 

    Get the recipe.

  • Albariño Mint Julep

    Albarino Mint Julep / Tim Nusog

    This low-proof riff on the Mint Julep from bar pro Alex Day is ideal for afternoon drinking. To re-create the drink, simply combine the crisp white wine albariño with peach liqueur crème de pêche in an ice-filled rocks glass and garnish with a mint sprig.

    Get the recipe.

    Continue to 13 of 20 below.
  • Whiskey Smash

    Whiskey Smash / Tim Nusog 

    Similar to a Mint Julep, this citrusy drink also includes muddled lemon wedges in a combination of bourbon, simple syrup, and mint. You can easily riff on the classic template by muddling other fruit, too.

    Get the recipe.

  • Kentucky Flyer

    Kentucky Flyer cocktail / Tim Nusog

    This Aviation riff skips the crème de violette and swaps gin for rye whiskey alongside maraschino liqueur and fresh lemon juice. Shake it up with ice, strain, and garnish with brandied cherries and a mint leaf.

    Get the recipe.

  • Pale Horse Rickey

    Pale Horse Rickey / Tim Nusog

    This bright, inventive Rickey variation from bartender China Morbosa swaps bourbon for mezcal. The smoky and earthy spirit plays well with manzanilla sherry, lemon juice, and a homemade mango-infused carbonated coconut water.

    Get the recipe.

  • High Horse

    High Horse cocktail
    Gina Haase

    Sip a cocktail as American as Derby Day. Inspired by the story of George Washington cutting down a cherry tree, Death & Co bartender Shannon Tebay Sidle created this Rum Manhattan riff with colonial-era ingredients: aged rum, kirsch brandy, cherry liqueur, sweet vermouth, and Angostura bitters.

    Get the recipe.

    Continue to 17 of 20 below.
  • Blackberry Mint Julep Margarita

    Blackberry Mint Julep Margarita / Tim Nusog

    This fruity cocktail merges two favorites, combining tequila with muddled blackberries and mint leaves, honey syrup, and lime juice over lots of crushed ice. Using an aged tequila helps to evoke the toasted notes of bourbon.

    Get the recipe.

  • Thin Mint Julep

    Thin Mint Julep / Tim Nusog

    Enjoy your favorite Girl Scout cookies all year round with this richer take on the Mint Julep. White crème de cacao adds chocolate notes to the combination of bourbon, mint, and simple syrup.

    Get the recipe.

  • Man o’War

    Man o' War cocktail / Tim Nusog

    This cocktail is named for one of the world’s greatest racehorses. While Man O’War never competed in the Kentucky Derby, he won the other two legs of the Triple Crown in 1920. To honor him in liquid form, shake together this combination of bourbon, triple sec, sweet vermouth, and lemon juice.

    Get the recipe.

  • Gin on Gin Julep

    Gin on Gin Julep / Tim Nusog

    Gin and genever star in this Julep riff. The two spirits are close pals that meld beautifully when combined with simple syrup and mint. Club soda and a mint sprig garnish add extra refreshment.

    Get the recipe.